Monday, October 26, 2009

After Martinsville - Old Points Vs. Chase Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Some Random Thought, and Thank You, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Junior Nation Gets Fired Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,
       Junior nation

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

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

photo credit:  Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just a Quick Thank You

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jimmy C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit:  Glenn Smith, Associated Press

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chase Points - Old Vs. New - Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: Russ Hamilton Jr. (Associated Press)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Would Your Driver Do Better On Another Team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it the driver or the team behind the driver?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Saluting America's Automobile Renaissance

photo courtesy of

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

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

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

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

Sometimes older is new.

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NASCAR and the National Anthem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 12, 2009

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

photo courtesy of Auto Club Speedway and Pepsi

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

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

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

There might be something more important though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Good Show at California

Photo by Jerry Markland / Getty Images Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Exciting Race at Fontana? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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