Blogs > Nascar: Beyond the Track

Find out what's really going on in NASCAR. Look here to find out why your driver really lost his ride, or the real reason those two drivers can't stand each other. Learn about the hidden motives and reasons for the things that happen in NASCAR, from the drivers to the team owners.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Don't expect miracles from Michael Schumacher when he returns

11 wins, 28 podiums, and a career too short.

That will likely be the final stat line on Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa, who suffered severe injuries this weekend in a freak qualifying session accident that saw a spring smash straight into his head after he ran it over at more than 150 mph.

The good news is that Massa survived, after emergency surgery to treat skull fractures and being very close to death. He was speaking to his family as early as Monday and is breathing without help from machines.

The bad news is the Brazilian driver may never see again fully out of his left eye. This means the 28-year-old Massa will likely never drive again in a Formula 1 car. This comes on the heels of Massa emerging as a true contender, having come within one position of winning the 2008 Formula 1 championship (Lewis Hamilton gained a spot on the last lap and just barely beat Massa for the crown) in an exciting finale last year.

This year has been a struggle for Ferrari, but Massa was entrenched at the team and would no doubt have made more title runs in the future ... until this happened.

It's a sad situation, but out of it all comes a shocker ... Michael Schumacher, who has been working as an adviser with the Ferrari team since retiring after the 2006 season, will briefly come out of retirement to finish the season in the car Massa has driven all year. This is not a permanent comeback, and Schumacher just wants to help out the team that helped him earn five of his seven titles.

Anyone thinking Schumacher is going to come in and dominate should think again. The Red Bull cars of Vettel and Webber, and the Brawn cars of Button and Barichello, have been putting a whooping on the competition all year -- including Ferrari and McLaren, the usual title contenders.

So even having Michael Schumacher, perhaps the greatest race car driver of all time, behind the wheel might not be enough to win.

Either way, I'll be happy just to see him race, simply because I never thought it would happen again. The whole time, though, we must not forget why he's there.

I was never a Felipe Massa fan, but it's just a terrible thing to see a promising young driver's career end on a such a senseless note ... a piece of debris in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If Schumacher can somehow pull out a win this seaon, you can bet he'll dedicate it to the guy who spent the last few years in that seat ... and most likely will never drive in it again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lackluster numbers may lessen interest in McMurray

The writing was on the wall all year … someone had to go at Roush.

But Jamie McMurray, the person likely thought to be the odd man out all year, never stepped up.
Now, with the announcement that his sponsor Crown Royal will replace Dewalt as Matt Kenseth’s sponsor for half of 2009, it’s official he won’t be in the Roush fold.

So what’s next for McMurray? Honestly, there are not too many good options.

Roush hopes to be able to transfer McMurray over to the Yates Racing stable, where he would either drive a third car or replace Bobby Labonte as the team’s second driver. The problem there is sponsorship. is not for sure returning to the #96, and now that Crown Royal has jumped ship there is not sponsor for McMurray to bring over to Yates. While Ford might want to keep McMurray in its fold, that won’t happen if the money is not there.

The next option is looking at open seats, but there are a couple problems there.
First of all, McMurray has hardly been a force on the track this year and overall in his career. This year he has three top-10s and no top-5s or wins. In fact, he’s only won twice in seven years … including one win in his second career Cup start back in 2002. That’s hardly a stellar resume. Roush has to be disappointed in what McMurray has done for him in the past four years, never finishing better than 16th in points.

He has shown flashes of his potential, but it’s safe to say that since his amazing debut in 2002, McMurray has been a huge disappointment when you think about what could have been.

So now that he’s out on the market, where can he go if someone was interested? The choices are few.
The #1 car is available, but that is owned by the man he previously drove for, Chip Ganassi, and I don’t know if either side would want to renew that partnership at this point. Beyond that, no one is really hiring, unless he were to displace a driver currently under contract.

These are times of contractions (rumors have both Richard Petty and Richard Childress scaling back their teams during or after this season due to sponsorship woes), not expansion. The only team likely to expand is Stewart-Haas racing, and there are other drivers (such as Brad Keselowski or possibly Kevin Harvick) who would be more desirable to Stewart for that team’s third car.

McMurray will find a home, as he’s far from the worst driver on the track each week. But you can’t ignore the numbers. 242 starts, 2 wins, 29 top-5s, 78 top-10s, and most of that was in decent equipment. Those numbers won’t cut it for an elite team in today’s NASCAR, where regular top-10s are expected if you want to keep your job.

Having established himself as a mid-pack driver, he’ll most likely end up at a mid-pack team. He’ll make a comfortable living, but don’t expect McMurray to be taking home many trophies in whatever ride he finds in 2010. And it’s too bad, because he certainly looked like a star when he busted onto the Cup scene.

The ageless Morgan Shepherd racked up another honor this week, as he was voted by fans into the Talladega-Texaco Walk of Fame and will be inducted Oct. 31. He beat out Michael Waltrip and Kasey Kahne for the honor.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Did you hear the one about Kyle Busch missing the Chase?

It sounds like a joke, but it’s not.

Kyle Busch, who has spent the last 18 months winning what seems like an endless number of races across all three of NASCAR’s top series, has been on a downward spiral that is among the biggest surprises of the season … and he might not make the Chase if things don’t pick up soon.

In the past eight races, Busch has earned just one top-10 finish, and struggled mightily the rest of the time. After blowing a tire and wrecking out of the Brickyard 400 on Sunday and finishing 38th, his worst finish since a 41st in the Daytona 500, he is now 14th in points … 82 points removed from a spot in the playoff. The next race is at Pocono, where Busch has never been great, and there are only a handful of races left before the Chase after that.

So what’s ailing Busch?

I think that at least some of the problem is Busch’s endless track-hopping as he tries to race in every Nationwide race and most Truck races. When you are in the desperate situation he is facing now in Cup, you need to focus on your main goal. If earning a Nationwide title costs you a shot at even competing for the Cup title, then it’s not worth doing all the Nationwide races. That wasn’t to blame at Indy, but I believe it has played a role in some of his other lackluster performances lately.

But all the blame can’t be put on Kyle. The Gibbs team has been putting cars on the track lately that are not up to the level of the cars Busch drove to 8 race wins in 2008. He has 3 wins this year, but is not competing consistently up front this season like he was last year.

I still believe Busch is talented enough and the Gibbs team is strong enough that he will pull himself out of this unexpected hole and make the Chase this year. But even if he does make the Chase, he won’t be much of a factor unless the #18 team can get back to its 2008 form.

This past week, Busch admitted that he could have a better attitude when he doesn’t win races, and that he could be more of a team player. Now, he will have to make those attitude adjustments and hope for the best … because with the competition for the Chase spots so tight, it’s clear that nothing but a consistent effort full of top-10s for the next month and a half will get him into the title hunt.

And as much as some people might hate Kyle Busch, we should all root for him to make it, because a Chase without Kyle Busch would be a lot more boring than a Chase that includes him.

Perfect day ruined for Montoya
As I was watching the Brickyard race, I was conflicted. I was, at the same time, rooting for Juan Pablo Montoya to get his first oval win and also lamenting just how predictable and boring most of the race had been so far.

Montoya put on a clinic over the rest of the field for 75 percent of the race. There was no question this was Montoya’s day to claim that first oval win. And then it happened, the dreaded pit road speeding penalty. As Montoya railed on the radio that he was being “screwed” by NASCAR and had not been speeding, the damage was done and he knew it, and he went on to finish 11th.

While he may not have gotten the win, a run like that is a good example of how far this team has come in 2009. With so many open-wheelers having failed and gone, it’s nice to see one have a consistent level of success like that in NASCAR.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Year of the old guy continues; Hornaday wins four in a row

It’s a good year to be a racer in your 50s.

Not only is Mark Martin threatening a title run in Cup and leading the series in wins, but down in the Truck series, Ron Hornaday Jr. is putting on a show for all the rest of the old-timers and young guns in that series. He capped an amazing June/July and made history by scoring four straight victories.

As I watched Friday night’s race at Indianapolis Raceway Park (a great track to watch a race live, by the way. I highly recommend going), I couldn’t help thinking back to the talk recently about how the Truck series was struggling and might not be around for much longer, and hoping that never happens.

Friday night’s Truck race was possibly the best race I have seen all season in any of the top three series. It didn’t start out great, but the final 150 laps or so provided nonstop action up front that would thrill any racing fan.

The ending had Hornaday trying desperately to hold off a charging Mike Skinner, who was on newer tires. The middle of the race featured Kyle Busch in an intense battle with Skinner for the lead that seemed to never end. Throughout the race, anywhere from two to four cars were up front and you never knew which truck would be leading at lap’s end. There is a great mix of veterans like Hornaday and Skinner, and kids on the way up like Colin Braun and Tayler Malsam.

In short, if this series ever gets shut down, it will be a shame because it provides the best racing of all three main series. The Cup series has the big names, but the competition most weeks is a far cry from the exciting show I watched Friday.

Getting back to Hornaday, who has now won five races this season and built a lead of almost 200 points, it is clear to me now the history books will show that Ron Hornaday Jr. was the biggest name to dr. There are others who have done well there (Jack Sprague, Greg Biffle, Mike Skinner, etc.), but by the time he’s done, he will have claimed pretty much every record in the book.

Hornaday earns people’s respect because he is a pure racer. He wants to win, period, and his skill is on display every week. He’s also not afraid to speak his mind, something else that endears him to fans.

To say Hornaday’s career is connected to Dale Earnhardt Sr. would be an understatement. After Earnhardt took notice of Hornaday prior to the 1995 season during Winter Heat races, his career took off at age 37, and he found his home driving in the Truck series for Dale Earnhardt. Since then, he has won three Truck series titles and 44 races.

There was a brief detour from 2000 to 2004, when he raced one year for A.J. Foyt in the Cup series, and four years in the Nationwide series for Dale Earnhardt, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, among others. Now, he drives for Kevin Harvick, the guy who had to jump into Dale Earnhardt’s car when he died so suddenly in 2001.

A combination of great trucks from great owners, and a ton of natural talent (his late father was also a championship racer) have led Hornaday to a great career, even if it never included success at the Cup level.

Just like Martin, he is showing that if you’re a talented driver, age really is just a number. Barring a major collapse, he will likely take home another Truck series title in 2009 and further establish himself and the face of the Truck series.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Entry list for 1994 Brickyard 400 provides a snapshot of racing history

With all the hoopla leading up to this year’s Brickyard 400, which we all hope will be an amazing race that makes us forget the embarrassment that was last year’s tire fiasco, much of the focus this week has been a look a back at 15 years ago, when NASCAR staged its inaugural race at the most famous track in the United States of America.

As this happened just before I started following NASCAR, I was not able to view the hoopla as it unfolded. But if the accounts I’ve been hearing and reading all week from people who were involved with the sport at the time, it was something to remember.

From the time A.J. Foyt and Tony George took a few laps, just for fun, around the Brickyard in Foyt’s Winston Cup car in 1991, to the time the green flag dropped in August 1994, the anticipation built and the entry forms kept on arriving at the Speedway.

Despite all the dumb things Tony George may have done since then, bringing NASCAR to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be viewed as one of his truly brilliant moves in the eyes of history. It has added a crown jewel to NASCAR’s schedule, and made the speedway remain relevant even in times when the fan base for Indycar hasn’t been all that great.

Looking back at the history of this event, I was struck most by one thing: The amazing entry list. More than 80 cars tried out for just 43 spots … and dozens went home.

You had a lot of young up-and-coming drivers on the entry list who would go on to achieve varying degrees of success. This includes Jeff Gordon, who won the the inaugural race and would go on to win four titles. A young Jeremy Mayfield was in the field, on his way to becoming a winner at the Cup level, and many years before his current drug testing woes. Jeff Burton was Rookie of the Year in 1994, many years before his title runs at Roush and his current status as the “mayor” of the garage. His brother Ward was also pretty new to the Cup series.

Also trying out for the race were the Indycar veterans, the ones who wanted one more shot at glory on the track they knew so well. Topping this list, of course, was the man himself: A.J. Foyt, who had just retired from Indycar racing in May. After waiting out so many qualifiers, he made the field and got another chance to race at the track where he had won four times. Other Indycar drivers, including Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan, Geoff Brabham, Stan Fox and Gary Bettenhausen, also tried out with varying degrees of success.

There were a few NASCAR old-timers who also wanted a shot at glory. Herschel McGriff, still racing today at 81, was a young 66 when he failed to qualify at Indy. Harry Gant got to drive at Indy during his farewell tour in 1994. Charlie Glotzbach, a part-time fixture in NASCAR since the early 1960s, took a shot at the Brickyard, as did James Hylton, H.B. Bailey and several other drivers whose peak years were in the past.

Then, of course, you had the true contenders of the era, the guys running up front every week in the mid-1990s. The Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, was eager to get a shot at the Brickyard. His chief rivals – Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Bill Elliott and other big names – were equally pumped up about NASCAR’s first trip to Indy.

And even beyond all these groups, it seemed everyone and their mother wanted to be a part of the Brickyard excitement. A dozen or so Winston West Series drivers attempted to qualify (including Ron Hornaday Jr. and Rick Carelli). ARCA drivers like Tim Steele came to try out. All three Bodines attempted to qualify, and did an endless list of part-time or one-off teams looking to be part of history.

The pole was a shocker … as it went to Rick Mast, driver of the unheralded Richard Jackson-owned #1 car, who had traded an Angus cow for his first racecar. History shows he led the first competitive lap ever run at Indy in a NASCAR race, beating Dale Earnhardt to the line. That’s a pretty cool story to tell the grandkids.

Just to put things in perspective, nowadays it’s surprising when an entry list tops 47 cars at a Cup race.

If you need any proof of how significant the 1994 Brickyard 400 is in NASCAR history, just look at the massive entry list. From future champions to fading legends to Indycar stars and everything inbetween, everyone wanted to be a part of this historic debut at the Brickyard.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Penske sure can pick ‘em: Allgaier, Kligerman poised for NASCAR stardom

As a general rule, Roger Penske is a success at whatever he’s doing.

As a young racer in the 1950s and 1960s, competing in SCCA, NASCAR, Formula 1 and other series, he was on track to become one of the great racers in history. But he realized his true calling was as a business leader, and retired at age 28 from driving.

In the business world, he has become a billionaire and runs companies that employ tens of thousands of people. This empire includes his racing teams, with which he has won 15 Indy 500s, dozens of NASCAR races and so many other prizes I have no room to mention them.

Having said all this, it’s no surprise that there is good news in the pipeline for the future of his Cup series team – a pair of young drivers who are showing some solid ability at a young age and are on the fast track to be successful at the top level.

Justin Allgaier is last year’s ARCA champion, inheriting that title after Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. literally knocked each other out of the title hunt. He has been on fire in Nationwide this year, and may have won by now if Kyle Busch and his Cup brethren weren’t double-dipping in the lower series.

With 3 top-5 finishes and 9 top-10s in his 18 starts this year for Penske in the Nationwide races, Allgaier is on the fast track to the Cup series, deservedly so.

Then there is Penske’s developmental driver Parker Kligerman, an 18-year-old driver who has won 5 of the last 6 ARCA races, and Penske definitely has a winner on his hands with this kid. Kligerman, who earned his latest win Saturday at Kentucky -- when he finally got around leader Grant Enfinger on the last lap after an amazing, 30-lap, side-by-side battle that was better than anything I’ve seen in NASCAR all year -- is the clear favorite to snag this year’s title.

From my view, Penske’s best option for 2010 is Allgaier moving up and replacing David Stremme in the #12 Cup ride, and Kligerman taking over Allgaier’s ride in the Nationwide Series. If Kligerman continues his pace and wins the ARCA crown this year, I don’t see any benefit in leaving him in that series, despite the fact he is only 18.

Penske is on a hot streak when it comes to spotting talent, having snagged drivers like Allgaier and Kligerman in the past few years.

But looking back at his history, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Congratulations to Herschel McGriff
Hershel McGriff was born on December 14, 1927.
He finished 13th this weekend in the Camping World West race in Portland, Oregon.

Yes, he is 81 years old. And yes, that is pretty amazing.

This guy has been around so long he makes Morgan Shepherd look like a rookie.

His first race was the inaugural Southern 500, where he started 44th in a field of 75 cars, and finished in 9th position, 26 laps behind the winner, winning $500. (Yeah, things were a little different back then).

The fact that he can still drive a race car, and finish decently, is an accomplishment that speaks for itself. He rewrote the record book yet again this weekend as NASCAR’s oldest driver, and will probably do it again very soon.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would likely trade some of his popularity for success

Being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

For example, the popular guys in high school may get the girls, but they are often viewed with anger by the outcasts of the school, and with jealousy by the other slightly less popular kids trying to climb the popularity ladder. Even worse is that popular people are under the most scrutiny of all. If they screw up, everybody knows and gets on their case about it, often making them the most insecure people in the whole school because they have so many standards to live up to.

I have a feeling that over the last couple years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had plenty of moments where he wishes he weren’t so popular.

If his name was Dale Jones, we wouldn’t care that he’s sitting 21st in points. But his last name is Earnhardt, and that means he has big shoes to fill.

One way you can tell whether a driver is enjoying his year is how a driver interacts with the media. Having been around the drivers, you can clearly tell during interviews which drivers embrace that side of the career (Carl Edwards is particularly into the media work) and which drivers just want to go to their trailer and get away from you (Paging young Mr. Busch).

Every time I’ve seen Dale Jr. interviewed over the past few years, either in person or on television, you can tell his mind is elsewhere. He looks distracted, like he’s thinking about something else and is just going through the motions. He knows he is obligated to do the promotions and media stuff, but in the back of his mind he’s just running down the possibilities why the hell he is running so bad.

He knows how many people are fanatical followers of his racing career, and that has to be something he contemplates in addition to his own disappointment at running mid-pack or worse for much of the year.

One thing is certain, and that is Dale Jr. will always have plenty of fans.
But if someone else, like Tony Stewart, were to all of a sudden see a huge surge in popularity and take the title of most popular driver away from Jr., I don’t think he’d be too upset.

If he wasn’t the No. 1 obsession of all the fans and wasn’t endlessly scrutinized by the media, maybe he could concentrate on racing and getting back to Victory Lane.

I’m not making excuses for Jr. He has Hendrick equipment and that should be enough to get him back into Victory Lane on any given week. The new crew chief seems to be working out better, but now it’s time for him to put the pedal down and win a race or two before the year ends.

I’m just saying that, psychologically, being the guy everybody wants to win has to be a bit taxing.

Just like the high school quarterback with the cheerleader girlfriend, there comes a day when the most popular player will disappoint with a game full of interceptions and fumbles.

Then the question must be asked: Are you good enough to be the most popular? Time will tell if that’s the case with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

And if he loses the crown, we’ll see whether he can finally focus enough that he can regain the ability to fight back and regain that crown … if he even wants it.

Childress would be wise to let Harvick leave

After it got out this week that Kevin Harvick, predictably, wanted out of his final year at the team, the team did the required denial and said both Harvick and his sponsor Shell/Pennzoil would still be there in 2010.

But don’t count on it.

As far as the sponsor goes, Childress is smart enough that he can probably make them stick around for the final year of their contract. You need money to put together a winning race team, so he’s not likely to let them get away if he’s got it in writing that they will be there.

But the driver is a whole different matter. An unhappy driver is not a good thing, as team chemistry is very important in NASCAR.

When you consider how unimpressive Harvick has been in recent years, not winning since his 2007 Daytona 500 victory, why would you want to hold him to his contract?

There’s a lot going on at Richard Childress Racing. The team has struggled mightily in 2009, in part because of the team’s inability to adapt to having a four-car operation. There are rumors of running fewer teams in 2010, and that Jack Daniels might want out from the underwhelming #07 driven by Casey Mears.

If Childress wants to succeed in 2010, a sulking Kevin Harvick is not someone he wants around. He should let Harvick leave, and if Jack Daniels leaves he can shift that sponsorship over to the Mears car. He’ll have a more manageable three-car team, and hopefully will be able to improve his teams’ results.

Harvick was the driver put in an impossible solution, moving up to Cup a year ahead of schedule when Dale Earnhardt died (He had originally been set to drive the #30 AOL car starting in 2002). He had a great start, winning in just his third start in the #29 car, but never became an elite driver on the level of a Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson. While the team he owns wins in Nationwide and Truck series, he doesn’t do it much in Cup anymore.

So it is really in the best interests of everyone for him to leave. He’d fit in great at Stewart-Haas Racing with his buddy Stewart, assuming the sponsorship could be worked out.

The team may insist Harvick is coming back for sure, and they have to do that publicly, but you know there is some backroom dealing going on right now that might end up with him being elsewhere in 2010.

And that would be the best-case scenario for all involved.

Harvick could get a fresh start elsewhere, and Childress would have a driver whose was fully dedicated to the ride.

Jimmie Johnson vs. Kurt Busch
They say drives have selective memories. As Kyle Petty said last week, they never remember wrecking anyone, but always remember who wrecked them.

Take the case of Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch last week at Chicago.

That wreck was clearly Jimmie’s fault, and Kurt has every right to be mad. Johnson got into him at Sonoma, too, under questionable circumstances. It may have been just a racing deal to Johnson (he said the #24 car got him loose), but that’s because he wasn’t the one in the wall.

The three-time defending champion is usually a pretty clean racer, but lately he’s shown that even he isn’t opposed to wrecking someone if it means a better finish.

It’s just a shame he won’t admit he was at fault, as that would be the act of a true champion.

Drug use by Brian France? Stepmom killed his dad? Mayfield lets accusations fly

When Jeremy Mayfield first took NASCAR to court, I said he was either innocent or crazy. I must amend that now after the Wednesday developments in the case: Either he is innocent, or he is an extreme addict.
The story that keeps on twisting took some turns Wednesday that were so shocking, no one saw them coming.

First, the predictable news was that Mayfield had failed the test he had taken at his home July 6. That is the test they said he delayed for hours, and appeared very diluted, indicating he had ingested large amounts of water to cover up and possible drug use.

At issue is the legitimacy of the testing. Mayfield said the NASCAR tests don’t confirm what his own tests have shown since his suspension. His tests are clean, but NASCAR’s tests are dirty, and they claim the laboratories Mayfield is using are not qualified to analyze the samples.

Then, the unpredictable happened. Mayfield didn’t wait for court to give his side of the story. He talked with several members of the media, and let it all hang out.

Among the highlights:
-- Mayfield hinted that Brian France, the man leading the fight to keep him off the track, is himself a drug abuser.
-- Mayfield indicated that his stepmother, who in court documents said she saw Mayfield cook and use methamphetamine as far back as the late 1990s, was responsible for the death of his father in 2007. He said he would file wrongful death suit Thursday.
-- Mayfield said he had done two drug tests that same day, July 6, and both had come back clean.

I knew this would be a dirty fight from the start. It has now descended into something much more than that … an all-out war.

Mayfield’s career is pretty much over at this point. Even if he could somehow get the judge to keep the injunction allowing him to race intact, he has no team at this point because they have all been fired or quit. As far as getting a sponsor and getting restarted, that’s hard to do for established teams, let alone a two-time drug test failer.

So we are beyond the point of, “Will Jeremy get back to racing?’

We are now at the point of war between Brian France/NASCAR and Jeremy Mayfield. Both sides are pulling no punches.

In NASCAR’s court documents, they quote Lisa Mayfield, who was married to Jeremy’s father Terry Mayfield at the time of his death, as saying she saw Mayfield manufacture methamphetamine and use the drug dozens of times. They are clearly going for the throat, digging up every bit of dirt they can on Mayfield in an effort to expose him so negatively he won’t ever have a shot at racing again.

Mayfield, though, took a page from the book of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface (“You wanna go to war? I’ll take you to war”) and fired off several shots back at the sport.

Regarding his stepmom, he indicated she was paid for her statement, and boldly told ESPN: "She's basically a whore. She shot and killed my dad. She knows what we've got on her. For her to come out and do this is pretty ballsy. Everybody that's ever know me knows I never, ever have been around her for more than 10 hours of my life. She's a gold digger. I knew that from Day 1."

Mayfield indicated Wednesday that Lisa Mayfield would be served with a wrongful death suit on Thursday.

That’s only the first doozy. Mayfield went straight for the man in charge, hinting that Brian France had a drug problem. I’m guessing he figured that if his name is going to get trashed, so should France’s name.

"Brian France talking about effective drug programs is like having Al Capone talking about effective law enforcement," Mayfield said.


I know one thing. If I’m trying to get my job back, I certainly wouldn’t call my boss a drug addict. Mayfield has realized his career is over, and is going for the jugular in retaliation.

Who knows, maybe he’s right about France? Maybe an independent laboratory should send a pee cup over to Daytona headquarters tomorrow?

I’m not serious in that suggestion, but it might be wise for Mayfield to pursue that strategy in court. After all, shouldn’t the guy running the multi-billion dollar sport of NASCAR have a clear head? That’s only common sense, right? The drivers’ lives are at the mercy of his rules.

What’s clear now is that this has become more than a question of whether Jeremy Mayfield should be racing … It is now an extremely personal case that involves accusations unheard in previous NASCAR controversies.

The bottom line: Despite the failed drug tests and accusations being leveled, Jeremy Mayfield continues to maintain his innocence and will fight to the death to defend his honor.

"They're playing this high school [expletive], they better be ready," Mayfield said Wednesday. "I'm coming after them in a big way. I'm prepared to go all the way and have the backing to do it if it takes everything I've got. I'm not going to back down for something I didn't do."

At this point, Mayfield’s innocence is highly unlikely, given his behavior at the testing and his seemingly irrational comments. But part of me doesn’t want to totally give up on him.There is one question that keeps going through my mind: How can a man claim his innocence so strongly when he is still using? It’s mindboggling to think about, but I suppose his addiction could be so strong that he just can’t stop. Or alternatively, he is getting blackballed by NASCAR worse than anyone since Tim Richmond.

Time will tell, and this will only get uglier before it’s done. That’s one thing you can bet on.

And in the very end, Mayfield will probably end up as defeated as Tony Montana was in "Scarface".

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hendrick shows it is the only powerhouse team in NASCAR this year

In order to be a powerhouse team, you have to win races and titles, and run up front on a weekly basis.
By that standard, there is only one powerhouse team in NASCAR this year, and that is Hendrick Motorsports.

Last year, Roush Racing had several cars that were great every week, RCR was pretty strong, Joe Gibbs Racing was consistently up front … meaning Hendrick had some company in the powerhouse category.

This year, that’s not the case. RCR has fallen to pieces and may not have any of its four cars make the Chase. Gibbs’ Kyle Busch is struggling many weeks, and Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are hit-or-miss. Roush Racing has some downright terrible teams this year (see: Ragan, McMurray), and of the other three, only Carl Edwards’ 99 team is really elite based on overall performance this year.

That leaves Hendrick, home to four-time winner Mark Martin, who is aggressively chasing his first career title. There is also Jimmie Johnson, who always seems to be in the top-5 no matter how rough his day was. And Jeff Gordon is back in championship form, holding down the second spot in the points. (There’s another driver there, too, but I don’t want to derail the conversation so I won’t talk about Mr. Earnhardt and his struggles.)

The only other team that can be counted on to run up front each week is Stewart-Haas Racing, and that’s basically a Hendrick team by association.

The Chicago race was a clinic put on by the Hendrick drivers, serving notice that it is the best team in the garage and will most likely take home the title this year. There are legitimate title contenders at the team (Martin, Johnson, Gordon), and no other team can even begin to say they have three guys capable of making the Chase and winning the title.

So unless things change in the second half of 2009, there is only one powerhouse team in NASCAR … and the rest are just trying to catch up by the time the Chase begins.

Ambrose impressive
If you were tracking Marcos Ambrose Saturday night (and I was, as he was on my fantasy team this week), you wouldn’t have expected him to finish strongly. He struggled most of the night in the 20s, and was a lap down for a long time after Martin tried to lap the field. But somehow, he came back and finished 11th. He is on a great run lately, with three top-10s in the past six races, and has reached 18th in the point standings.
Those who might have written Ambrose off as a road racer have been proven wrong, and it looks like he’ll be around NASCAR for a while. Look for him to build on the first half of the year and continue to be successful.

Double-file restarts here to stay
After getting caught in several wrecks related to double-file restarts, likely dropping him out of the Chase this year, Jeff Burton is firmly in the camp against the new restart rules. While I understand his bad luck, his words mean little. The double-file restarts are here to stay. They made Saturday’s race exciting. Without them, we would have had nothing but a Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson runaway snoozefest. The best parts of the race came at the end, when the double-file restarts had everyone side-by-side.

So sorry Jeff Burton, but you’re just gonna have to hope your luck improves on these restarts. The fans, and NASCAR, like what they see.

Name game is petty
One thing that drives me nuts is when networks play politics and refuse to call the race by its proper name. The Chicago race was the 400, but the announcers kept calling it “NASCAR racing brought to you by Papa John’s” for some reason. A company pays millions to sponsor a race, then the networks wants to play games because they didn’t buy any TV spots during the race. It’s petty and silly.

It must have killed TNT when the announcers actually had say the word Lifelock at the end of the race when they mentioned the $1 million dollar prize a fan won from the company.

It’s similar to the petty battle between ESPN and the other networks that broadcast races, which leads to them never announcing on their NASCAR Now show where we can see the race on Sunday. It’s childish. Next time contracts come up, NASCAR should mandate cross-promotion between the networks. It can only help grow the sport.

Magic of 2008 is gone for Kyle Busch’s team this year

Remember a year ago, when Kyle Busch took NASCAR by storm and his Cup team was unstoppable, the ones who you expected to win every race?

Times have changed very quickly. Through a variety of circumstances, whether it be mechanical problems or his incident with Stewart at Daytona last week (the alleged “dumping”), things haven’t gone so well lately for the man that brings out fans’ emotions more than any other driver in the garage.

The ones who hate him were most likely cheering when they saw him smacking the wall so many times during Saturday night’s race. They’ll likely cheer the fact that Busch is down to 10th in points, just 13 points ahead of 13th-place driver Greg Biffle. If he has a bad race at the Brickyard, he will likely drop from the Chase.

The biggest critic of all is the man himself, as Kyle Busch wants to win and nothing else. He beats himself up for finishing 2nd in Nationwide races, so I can only imagine how angry he is that he has 8 finishes worse than 20th this season. That’s hardly going to win you a title, and he knows it.

The good news is that this slump is happening mid-season. Joe Gibbs runs a solid team, and they need to figure out what is ailing the #18 team. Luckily, they have time. Last year, Busch picked the worst time possible to slump, the start of the Chase, and was never able to recover.

The likelihood of Busch’s bad run continuing to the point where he misses the Chase is rare, but you never know in NASCAR. If that happens, we might want to put Busch on suicide watch. I kid, but this is a driver who has enough talent to win every race he enters, so that would be an amazing development.

You can bet there are some big talks going on at the Gibbs team about how to get Busch’s team back on track. He’s won three races this year, so to not have him in the mix battling for the title wouldn’t seem right … and it would drain the Chase of drama because there would be no villain.

Great week for Red Bull
A dominant pole winner is rare in NASCAR, and it’s been a few years since Ryan Newman was winning them in large amounts.
But this year, Brian Vickers has five poles in 19 races, and is on track to try to reach double digits.
Considering more than 40 cars attempt to qualify each week, that is a mighty impressive feat that is worth noting. Also this week, his Red Bull teammate Scott Speed started 2nd … and it was very weird to see him up front competing for the lead, even if it didn’t last long and Speed ended up wrecking.

Keselowski to Penske talk resurfaces .. don’t believe it
While I am sure Roger Penske would love to have Brad Keselowski behind the wheel of the #12 car next year, I don’t see Chevrolet and Rick Hendrick letting a hot young driver like Brad go, even if it was a one-year loan deal. Something will be worked out to keep Keselowski full-time in a Hendrick-affiliated team like SHR or James Finch’s #09 team for 2010.

They recognize he is a true talent, and you don’t just give that away.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bad directions or eluding testing? … The Jeremy Mayfield saga takes a silly turn

So Jeremy Mayfield, who is busy trying to keep his race team alive so he can get back to the track and enjoy his newfound freedom from suspension, had a little detour from his efforts when NASCAR gave him a buzz on Monday afternoon. According to the AP, they called Jeremy at 1:18 p.m., and told him to report for a drug test within 2 hours, the usual allowance for a test subject.

As I describe the following scenario that allegedly unfolded, picture Yakety Sax, the Benny Hill theme song, playing in the background. Because it is that silly.

NASCAR claims Mayfield said he had to speak to his attorney before reporting for the test … then said he couldn’t find the lab, so NASCAR sent him to another lab … then, at 3:45 p.m., called to say he was close but lost … then, at 5:30, his attorney said he had gone to an independent lab so they couldn’t say he didn’t get tested … then went home, where NASCAR testers showed up and weren’t allowed to enter for 10 minutes, then couldn’t get Mayfield to submit a sample for an hour … A man watched him pee, over Mayfield’s objection.

Now if that isn’t a ridiculous series of events, I don’t know what is. The song “I Don’t Like Mondays” took on a whole new meaning for everyone’s favorite embattled backmarker driver who was once a feel-good story back at Daytona.

NASCAR hinted that Mayfield’s actions were suspicious.
“The litany of excuses and delay tactics he used to keep away from our testers was ridiculous,” NASCAR’s Ramsey Poston said.

Mayfield’s lawyer offered an alternate tale. He said that NASCAR’s confusing instructions were the reason for the delays, and there was no stalling involved.
“He’s not a danger, and they have the right to test him anytime to find that out,” John Buric said. “In fact, they did test him on Monday night at his home. A group of people went to his home and watched him pee in a cup. It was humiliating.”

Dr. David Black, CEO of Aegis Sciences Corp., which runs NASCAR’s program, said that when someone has more than two hours before testing, they can do things to mask the results. He said the test sample collected Monday would come back by Friday.

From my perspective, the actions of Mayfield certainly aren’t helping his quest to find sponsorship for his racecar and get back on the track. Whether he was evasive or not, the fact is he should be doing everything perfect when it comes to testing if he is as innocent as he claims. As far as finding the lab, a GPS is only about $150 in most Best Buy stores, and I’m sure even Jeremy can afford one of them. This is no time to get cute.

At the same time, NASCAR is clearly being a bully here. They are treating him like a convicted criminal when it hasn’t even been determined whether the test that he failed was a false positive or not (and we may never know).

The key point in all of this is that everybody involved is looking bad. With his “bad directions” routine and waiting two hours to call back, Mayfield is looking more guilty than ever. When he first went to court, I said he was either telling the truth or crazy. At this point, I’d say it’s a toss-up.

But NASCAR is also coming across as a sore loser that wants to punish the guy who surprisingly beat them in court.
There’s no doubts Mayfield’s actions on Monday appear shady from a distance, but only he knows what actually happened. I’m very anxious to see what happens with the results of these latest tests.

If they come back positive, all bets are off. He’s a goner. If that happens, he’s clearly been lying all along and this is the last straw. He won’t be able to race at his local dirt track.

But if the tests are clean, NASCAR should avoid the pettiness of harassing him every other day just so they look tough on drugs. Let the court battle play out and leave him alone so he can do his best to get back on the track.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Waltrip wise to hand keys to Truex … but can Truex win in that car?

Heading into 2009, both Michael Waltrip and Martin Truex Jr. knew that it was an important year for their careers.

For Waltrip, the end of the road was in sight. He was very blunt before the year started … if he couldn’t compete, he was done with running full-time in the Cup series after 25 years and more than 700 starts, including 4 wins during his stint at DEI.

For Truex, who had just signed a one-year deal with DEI (now EGR) last season, the question was, “Where will he be in 2010?” Few thought he would stay in his current ride, as the cars just weren’t up to speed most weeks at a level that can compete with the elite teams in NASCAR.

A couple weeks ago, it was leaked that Truex would be heading to Michael Waltrip Racing, likely to take over the #55 ride, leaving Michael to be the boss and perhaps run an occasional race.

Today, July 7, that is going to become official at a 12:30 p.m. press conference that will be televised live on SPEED. Waltrip wisely kept his word and decided to give up running full-time, and now we know where Truex is going.

This deal raises a new question, though … Can Truex win and run up front in his new ride?

Over the past few years, the #55 car has been less than spectacular with Waltrip behind the wheel. He is in the back of the pack most weeks, with the exception of plate races, and even there he’s struggled lately.

So when Truex gets in the car next year (or maybe sooner?), we will see just what the reason was … was Waltrip to blame? Or was the car to blame?

I’m thinking Option A is more likely. Waltrip was great for many years on restrictor plates, where he won all four of his races (2 Daytona 500s, 1 Firecracker 400, 1 Talladega race). But outside of those tracks, he was never that great and never finished better than 12th in points in his lengthy career. He was a great pitchman and a decent driver, so he always had a ride, but he was never an elite driver.

Its owner’s car excepted, Michael Waltrip Racing has been on the upswing this year. David Reutimann is a talent and pulled out a win due to rain. Beyond that, though, he’s been competitive and led other races, and should continue to do so. An affiliated car driven by Marcos Ambrose has also had some great runs this year.

So there is hope for Truex at MWR … which may bring him the success he has sought for his whole Cup career after winning two Busch Series titles. He is also on the hot seat, as he only has one career win and will also be tested next year. Does he have the talent to join the elite class of drivers and start winning races, or will he always be a middle-of-the-pack guy? We’ll find out next year.

I thought he might work with Joe Gibbs Racing to see about becoming the driver of a fourth team in that organization, but it appears that is not going to happen. There, I believe, he would have had a better chance of success right out of the gate.

But Truex, whose younger brother Ryan also is in the MWR organization at lower levels of racing, appears to like what he sees and it’s clear he believes he can make it work.

Only time will tell if he made the right decision about where to go for 2010, and whether he will be able to make the leap to contender status.

NASCAR’s appeals judges lifing of Mayfield suspension
In a move that was expected, NASCAR is seeking a reversal of the shocking decision in the Jeremy Mayfield drug testing scandal last week that allowed Mayfield to return to racing.

Don’t expect anything out of it, though. They’re asking the same judge to overturn his own ruling … not going to happen. This case will be in court for months, possibly years, so don’t expect any bombshell decisions anytime soon in NASCAR’s favor.

There is trouble for Mayfield, though, as he now has bigger issues than the court case … finding the money to be able to race. No sponsor will want to go near him, and he is not on the Chicago entry list, though if he pays the $5000 late fee by Thursday he can still enter.

I wouldn’t bet on him being there this week, and maybe in future weeks too. Unless the #64 Gunselman team lets him drive their car, Mayfield may be away from racing for a while … not because of a suspension, but because his team is broke. On top of it all, he is being sued by Triad Racing Technologies for allegedly owing more than $86,000 for parts.

He may have won in court last week and forced NASCAR to lift his suspension, but it’s clear that Mayfield is far from out of the woods as far as getting his season back on track.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Busch has himself to blame for his car becoming a pinball

The infield care center was Kyle Busch’s second home on Saturday.

First, after his run during the intense heat in the Grand-Am race for Chip Ganassi, he went there to get some IV fluids as a precautionary measure.

Then, the Firecracker 400 ended with Busch being the pinball in a real-life 180 mph video game … First hitting the wall head-on after making contact with Tony Stewart, then getting RAMMED harder than I’ve seen in a while by Kasey Kahne, and finally getting T-boned on the driver’s side by teammate Joey Logano.

It wasn’t quite as shocking as Carl Edwards’ close encounter with the fans at Talladega, but it was still quite a sight to see, and collected a good dozen cars, some of whom were able to cross the finish line, and some who weren’t.

So, as usual when something like this happens, the question comes up: What’s to blame? Is it restrictor plate racing itself, which bunches up the field so much? Perhaps. I agree the plates need to go, but they can’t be given all the blame in situations like this.

There’s another factor so many people forget about – the drivers.

Kyle Busch did not have to drive directly into Tony Stewart in his attempt to win the race. It’s ironic that Busch appeared to be angry at Stewart after the race, as if Stewart had done something wrong. All he did was drive in a straight line. It’s not his fault that Busch made the move he made.

The same goes for the big Talladega wreck. Carl Edwards tried to block when he knew he was already beaten, and he ended up in the air. The same thing happened at Daytona to Busch. To Edwards’ credit, he admitted it was his fault, and was even jovial enough to run across the finish line after emerging from his car’s wreckage. Busch, of course, went off to sulk as usual, but this time I’ll give him a pass for the media snub -- After getting knocked around like that, I don’t even know if he recognized what time zone he was in.

But going back to the wreck, I’m pretty sure that Busch will come to realize once he sees the footage that the entire thing was his doing. He had just taken the lead for the first time all race with a couple laps to go, but on the final lap Tony Stewart was clearly faster.

Stewart was on Busch’s bumper as close as he could possibly be, hoping to get him loose and slide by for the win in the final turns. And just when it was clear that Stewart, the faster car, was going to do that – Busch basically drove into Stewart. The rest is history.

I understand why he did it. It’s Daytona, the holiest of all NASCAR tracks, and all drivers will do almost anything to win there. So I’m not criticizing Kyle Busch for wanting to win.

But if I hear one word out of his mouth about how he got a raw deal and Stewart played dirty, I’m going to have to chuckle. Because it was his too-late blocking move that caused those dozen or so cars to become garbage heaps … and Stewart has no reason to apologize like he did in Victory Lane.

In short, I have to differ with the TNT announcing team, who said it’s not fair to blame anyone when these wrecks happen, because they say anything goes on the last lap at Daytona. It’s pretty clear to me who was at fault Saturday night, and his name is Kyle Busch. And I’m fairly certain he’ll come to the same conclusion after watching the end of the race.

Some drivers more accepting than others of Mayfield returning

Among the most interesting dynamics to the Mayfield drama is the way other drivers have reacted.

As was to be expected, many drivers have cast an angry eye toward Mayfield, and gone so far as to put their name on court documents that show support for Mayfield’s suspension. This group includes Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, whose affidavits say they don't want to be on the same track as someone who tests positive for a banned substance or has drugs in his system.

Ryan Newman was quite concerned after hearing of Mayfield’s court victory, saying; "People make mistakes. I hope the judge didn't make one."

I understand the concern of these drivers and what they say is basically common sense, but they’re ignoring a key element in this particular situation: The test result is being questioned and it could turn out to be a false positive. Couple that with the fact these guys have racing against Mayfield for the past 15 years without any hint of a drug problem, plus the fact that he would definitely be tested again before getting back on the track, and I think we have a bit of an overreaction by some drivers. What do they think – that after getting this far in court and protesting his innocence for months, that Mayfield is going to show up all hopped up on meth and run everybody into the wall?

Others, such as Mark Martin, have said that if Mayfield can pass a drug test, they has no problem being on the same track with him. This, to me, is a more common sense approach. Martin has raced for more years than pretty much everyone on the track, so his opinion on this matter is one that other drivers might learn something from.

Some drivers used the opportunity to talk trash about Mayfield’s backmarker status this year.
Kyle Busch said, "If he's out there on the race track with me, it doesn't bother me. Normally, we're ahead of him anyway."
Kasey Kahne was equally harsh, saying: "As far as racing with Jeremy, I don't ever race with Jeremy. He's at one end; I'm at the other."

That is kicking a guy when he’s down, but I’ve always applauded drivers who are honest, and if that’s what they want to say, more power to them.

Another common sense approach came from unofficial garage “mayor” Jeff Burton, who urged that if Mayfield is at the track, he is tested as often as possible to make sure he’s telling the truth about being clean.
"The fact of the matter is that he failed a drug test, and that opens the door to question," Burton said. "I deserve to 100 percent know that he is 100 percent clean and so he should be tested soon enough, early enough, often enough to where he can never be on the race track while he is using drugs."

This is a good way to look at the situation as a competitor. You need to know you will be safe on the track, but every man still has the right to prove he is innocent.

And on that note: Happy Independence Day and enjoy the Firecracker 400.

Hair test would end Mayfield drug use debate

Instead of all the back-and-forth soap opera drama between NASCAR and Jeremy Mayfield about whether he was using illegal drugs this season, I have a simple solution: Take a sample of his hair and test it, so you have a definitive answer.

Mayfield has said from the start that he wouldn’t mind if NASCAR did this, and in his ruling District Court Judge Graham Mullen said that NASCAR can test Mayfield’s urine as often as they like, and they can ask for a hair sample to test. A hair sample is more definitive than a urine sample, and would tell whether Mayfield had used drugs as far back as 3 to 6 months ago. That would pretty much answer the question of whether Mayfield has taken any illegal drugs this season.

But that test hasn’t been ordered. Brian France had a press conference this week where he strongly defended the test results and decision to suspend Jeremy, but did not say a hair test would be done.

The fact that the hair test hasn’t been ordered tells me one thing that I’ve already mentioned in previous writings – NASCAR is afraid it might be wrong. If they did a hair test and it showed no drug use by Mayfield, NASCAR would have a ton of egg on its face and its drug testing policy would lose all credibility. They won’t allow this to happen, so this is why they won’t order a hair test.

As far as NASCAR is concerned, the urine test is correct and they wish this was all over. Unfortunately for them, Mayfield is not giving up. And he has some support from Judge Mullen, who said in his decision that the likelihood of a false positive was "quite substantial."

The most hilarious part of it all is that we could have an answer to the entire messed-up situation with a simple application of a pair of scissors to the locks of Mr. Mayfield.

But NASCAR, it seems, is too afraid to actually do it.

Good thing he didn't show up
The ironic thing is that rain wiped out qualifying at Daytona for the Firecracker 400, so even if Mayfield had showed up in his car, he would have had to pack up his car and go home without getting his shot to make the race.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Judge’s ruling raises question: Did NASCAR get Mayfield’s drug test wrong?

No one thought this was going to happen. Everyone thought this July 1 hearing was just a formality and it was clear that Mayfield’s career was effectively over.
Temporary injunctions are very difficult to get approved, especially if you have been found to have used methamphetamines and are seeking the right to go race a car at 200 mph.

But Jeremy Mayfield and his attorney, Bill Diehl, are on top of the world after U.S. District Court senior Judge Graham Mullen ruled that Mayfield’s suspension for failing NASCAR's substance abuse policy should be lifted, which allowed him the right to return as driver and owner of the #41 team, as early as this weekend if he could get his car there in time.
(Note: As of 1 p.m. Friday, Mayfield had not reported to Daytona, and has two hours to show up. We may not see him until next week at Chicago.)

The reason for Mullen’s granting of the injunction is that he believed the harm to Mayfield's reputation was worse than the harm to the sport. Mullen also believes the evidence showed a strong probability that the test is the result of a mix of medications, as Mayfield claims, and not of illegal drug use.

When I first heard this, my first thought was simply, ‘WOW’. This is a tremendously huge win for Mayfield, as it essentially saves his career and allows him to go racing.

NASCAR officials are no doubt mighty pissed off about this ruling, as it clearly undermines their authority to police their own drivers. But as this is only a temporary injunction, they have to keep those feelings to themselves because the court case will go on.
"We are disappointed, but we respect the judge's ruling," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. "This is only a temporary injunction. The legal case continues beyond this point, and we will continue to make our case."

I have to say that at this point, the case is about a whole lot more than just Jeremy Mayfield. I’m rooting for the guy, but I don’t have any personal stake in whether the guy ever races again.

The case has captured national media attention, and now it has turned into something other than a question of whether Mayfield raced on drugs. It has turned into a referendum on NASCAR itself, more specifically its drug testing policy, which they have no plans to change.

It’s not just about Mayfield, who likely won’t do much on the track even if he can come back permanently. It’s about a concept now … can you challenge NASCAR’s authority and win that battle in the modern era.

Also, the fact that this judge believes the drug test may not indicate what NASCAR claims it indicates opens up a whole new can of worms, including the big question: DID NASCAR GET IT WRONG?

If it’s found that they did and Mayfield was wrongly suspended, it will be the biggest stain on NASCAR’s credibility as a sports league in a very long time, and open the door for others to challenge their rulings that historically drivers have not done with any success.

When Curtis Turner tried to organize a drivers’ union decades ago, he was issued a lifetime ban by Big Bill France. The sport’s treatment of Tim Richmond as he attempted to keep racing while suffering from AIDS is undefendable, and they admitted to falsely saying he had failed a drug test.

But Mayfield stood up when he was suspended, claiming he doesn’t use drugs. And with Wednesday’s court win, we are at an unprecedented place in the sport’s history. If Mayfield wins the overall court case, not only will be able to driver again, but he will probably get damages in the millions for lost earnings and damage to his reputation. I can already hear the stream of cuss words emanating from Brian France if he ever has to write that check to Mayfield.

NASCAR is on the front page of sports sections all over the country with this story, and they have to be very angry the court went against them. There’s no word yet if or when they’ll appeal, but the France family and Mike Helton have to be punching walls after this judge’s ruling.
In the past, when a driver challenged NASCAR, always won. This time, they may lose.

Jeremy Mayfield may have only won a few races in his career and be a backmarker when he races lately. But if he can come out victorious in court after failing this drug test and challenging the sport’s once-unbeatable front office, he will be remembered in history for a completely different reason.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Here's who the top-25 nominees for NASCAR's Hall of Fame should be

The NASCAR Hall of Fame process begins this Thursday with the announcement of the first set of nominees -- 25 names, from which five will be chosen this fall to join the first class to be inducted into the Hall.

Here’s my choice of who should be included on the list of 25, and which 5 should make it into the first round of inductees. (For the record, I did not consider anyone still active in the sport. Their time will come in the future.)

TOP 5:
Richard Petty – The King, 200 wins, 7 titles. That’s good enough for me.
Dale Earnhardt – The Intimidator, 76 wins, 7 titles. Might have passed Petty in total titles if he hadn’t passed on.
David Pearson – In my opinion, Pearson is the most talented driver of all time. If he had been full-time every year, he would have a lot more than the 105 wins and three titles he has. The record books would look a lot different.
Big Bill France – Without him, there is no series … he has to be inducted.
Junior Johnson – Famous for his moonshining past, Johnson never won a title while driving … but he has 50 wins as a driver and 139 as an owner. I’d say that’s Hall of Fame material.

The rest (in no particular order):
Darrell Waltrip
… Say what you want about DW as an announcer, but no one can deny his skill on the track, where he won three titles and ticked off a lot of competitors in the process with his often-antagonistic comments.
Cale Yarborough … Three straight titles is an amazing accomplishment, especially in a sport as competitive as NASCAR. Also a master strategist.
Bobby Allison … A man who has seen too much tragedy in his life (including the death of two sons), on the track Bobby was a force to be reckoned with. He finally claimed that elusive title in 1983, and won 84 races.
Lee Petty … Before Richard became The King, his dad claimed three titles in the 1950s. Despite not getting into racing until age 35, Lee Petty will be remembered as a great talent and pioneer of the sport.
Red Byron … First-ever series champion.
Tim Flock … The most famous Flock brother won two titles and was among the first to be banned by NASCAR. Famously drove with a monkey in his car.
Dave Marcis … The Ironman from Wisconsin raced for 35 years and claimed 5 wins, but his real accomplishment is standing as the ultimate example of a little team that always tries to compete with the big boys, no matter how long the odds.
Joe Weatherly … Ex-motorcycle champ moved over to NASCAR and claimed two titles. Ended up dying when his head left the car during a wreck … ushering in the era of the window net.
Buck Baker … Won two Cup titles, and even won the 1952 title in the short-lived “Speedway Division”, which featured open-wheel cars with stock engines. First back-to-back title winner.
Herb Thomas … “Fabulous Hudson Hornet” driver among the biggest stars of the first years of NASCAR.
Davey Allison … Bobby’s son tragically left us too soon … he was on a path to become one of the greats, and could have been a championship 15. contender for many years.
Harry Gant … Handsome Harry is most famous for his four straight Cup wins in 1991, but he had great runs regularly throughout his decades-long career.
Alan Kulwicki … Last owner-driver to claim the title, in 1992, killed the next year in a plane crash. He was not an easy man to work for, but that focus on perfection led him to an unlikely championship.
Wendell Scott … Only black driver ever to win at the Cup level, he endured so much racism over the years, both on and off the track, yet never let that stop him from racing. A truly inspirational man who also could drive a car pretty well.
Ned Jarrett … Learned to drive at age 9. Good move by his dad, as he went on to win 2 titles and become a great race announcer after retiring.

Bill France Jr. – Led NASCAR as it made its march into the mainstream of American sports.
T. Wayne Robertson -- President of sports marketing for cigarette maker and Cup series sponsor R.J. Reynolds, helped grow Nascar from a regional sport into an international success.
Smokey Yunick – Legendary engine builder, mechanic and team owner … mastered the art of using gray areas to get around NASCAR rules
Harry Hyde – Regarded by many as the greatest crew chief of all time.
Glen and Leonard Wood (Wood Brothers Racing) – This team is a key part of NASCAR history, and has been involved in some of the biggest moments in the sport, not to mention inventing the modern-day pit stop. They deserve recognition.