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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dale Jr., Harvick among biggest disappointments of 2009

Every year in NASCAR, there are winners and there are losers.
Often the losers will be the drivers we all expected to do well, because it’s inevitable that someone is going to step up their game each year, leaving a usual competitor on the sidelines.

In 2009, there were several drivers who failed to live up to their potential, and are hoping for major improvements in 2010.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The stat line isn’t pretty here, and there’s no sugarcoating how badly this season went for the sport’s biggest star. 25th in points, 2 top-5s and 5 top-10s. He is racing on the best team in NASCAR and his three teammates finished 1,2,3 in the points. There is no conceivable reason that Jr. should have such a bad season, and I hope for both his sake and NASCAR’s sake that he snaps out of it and he doesn’t have a repeat performance in 2010. Dale Jr. winning and competing for wins is good for the sport, but he hasn’t done much of it in the past few years.

Whether it was getting caught in wrecks, his car being ill-prepared, or the driver making the mistakes on the track, the #88 team did not come close to meeting expectations this year. They’ve already switched the crew chief, so now it’s all on the driver. No buts about it, Dale Jr. is going to have to perform in 2010, as he has no excuse left for doing poorly.

David Ragan
I had high hopes for David Ragan this year, after he made a strong run last year and almost made the Chase. This year, he was just plain dreadful, finishing 27th in points with 0 top-5s and just 2 top-10s. This was the biggest one-season dropoff I’ve seen in a long time, as a young driver on his way up in the sport seems to have taken a step back. I am at a loss when trying to explain this massive slip. Clearly, Ragan has some talent, which he showed last year, but something just isn’t right at the #6 team. You almost forgot Ragan was on the track most weeks, he was running so badly. Jack Roush had better hope this team improves in 2010, because Roush needs a solid young rising star like Ragan on his team and doing well.

Kevin Harvick/RCR
All 3 or Richard Childress Racing’s drivers made the Chase in 2008. In 2009, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears AND Jeff Burton all missed. Some of the teams, particularly Burton, looked better at year’s end, but it didn’t matter by that point. With a great history full of championships, this team should be doing better than it is. It’s clear the 4th car was too much to handle, and the team wasn’t anywhere near competing with the Hendrick standard. The team members’ points finishes (15th, 17th, 19th and 21st) show that. Childress needs to make whatever adjustments are necessary this offseason to get back on track.

Roush Fenway Racing
David Ragan wasn’t alone in his struggles at Roush. Matt Kenseth won the first two races, then fell off the map. Greg Biffle didn’t win all year, and neither did Edwards, who won 9 times in 2008. While Rick Hendrick’s team took a step forward in 2009, Jack Roush’s team took a big step back. The Roushketeers need to figure out what is ailing their teams (the drivers are pretty solid, so maybe some crew/garage staff shuffling might help), and get their cars up to snuff so they can get going in the right direction in 2010.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Emergence of Montoya among things to smile about in 2009

Yes, there was a race Sunday. But since all that happened was the never-ending Jimmie Johnson / Rick Hendrick title reign being extended, there really isn’t much for me to talk about that everyone doesn’t already know.

So instead, I’ll take the advice of our mothers, and only say nice things today, looking back at the more positive developments of the 2009 NASCAR year.

The emergence of Juan Pablo Montoya
When he came over from Formula 1, JPM was known as a racing talent, but it took him a while to learn NASCAR and become a competitive driver. This year, he should have won at Indianapolis, and will win on an oval soon. Driving for a brand new Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, he did more than impress … he was simply awesome.

Also, he has a great, honest personality and NASCAR needs that right now. I hope he is even more competitive in 2010.

The return of Mark Martin to contention
While Johnson took home the trophy, everyone was hoping Martin could pull off a miracle and take home the title. Why so much love for Mark? That’s easy … he’s a great representative of the sport, and should have won a title by now. Not having one doesn’t make him less of a driver, but it sure would have been nice to see him do it this year. He’s the most respected guy in the garage, for good reason.

If there’s anyone who doesn’t like the guy and pull for him to do well, I’ve never met them. It was great to see him winning again, and here’s hoping he can be back in the hunt again in 2010. I’d love for the Hendrick dominance to end, but I wouldn’t mind if they got another one if Martin was the driver.

Drivers expressing themselves on Twitter
I love the fact that drivers can go online and argue with each other on Twitter, or just talk trash online about their competition. Take this little gem from today for example, as Montoya went on Twitter after the race and shared his thoughts about his on-track battle with Tony Stewart, writing: “I always said pay back its a bitch”

Twitter is great for NASCAR fans, because it lets drivers vent in an atmosphere that’s not controlled by the France family, and honest drivers like JPM can really let loose. (The only downside is the occasional too-much-information moments from Michael Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace, but I’ll accept the bad with the good.)

The improvement of Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose
Ambrose is similar to Montoya, as he is regarding as a great talent due to how he ran in previous racing series, but had to prove himself in NASCAR. This year, he showed he could compete with the big boys, finishing 18th in points and letting everyone know he is more than just a road course specialist.

Brian Vickers has stumbled since leaving Hendrick Motorsports, but the Red Bull team stepped up and he put on some great drives to make it to the Chase (where he ultimately stunk it up bad, but we’re thinking positive today so I won’t focus on that). Vickers is another young driver who has a bright future and it was nice to see him do well in his post-Hendrick ride. Hopefully, this was just the first of many good years for Vickers, as we need some new blood near the top of the standings.

Michael Waltrip’s retirement from full-time driving
This may sound negative, but it really isn’t. Waltrip was smart enough to realize he was mostly just riding around each week, and putting Martin Truex in his car will only improve the performance of that team in 2010. In the end, Michael Waltrip’s team will benefit from this switch.

Joey Logano’s arrival in Cup
“Sliced bread” didn’t put on as impressive a rookie show as Tony Stewart did in that #20 car a decade ago, but he did pretty well for a teenager, taking his first checkered flag. Believe the hype, he is for real and will be a regular visitor to Victory Lane very soon.

When I look back to 2009, I’ll try to forget about the overall result and focus on these elements.

And I’ll continue be here all winter, in the brief offseason, dissecting all the moves that will be made as teams try to catch up to the #48 and Hendrick Motorsports.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Don’t let Cup drivers compete for Nationwide crown

I’ve said this a hundred times, and will say it a hundred more: Enough with the Cup drivers winning Nationwide trophies.

We now have had four straight Cup drivers win Nationwide titles (Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch), and it’s getting ridiculous. I don’t care if they race and get paid, but don’t give them full points and allow them to compete for the championship. Let the young up-and-coming stars battle for titles. Brad Keselowski should have been a 2-time champ in 2008 and 2009, like Martin Truex Jr. was in 2004 and 2005, but instead was moved out of the way by Cup drivers both years.

I don’t see how any fan can be excited that a strong Cup driver like Busch won the Nationwide title. It’s completely ridiculous to me and I’m amazed that he thinks it’s a great accomplishment. As one non-NASCAR fan once asked me: “How can they let the major leaguers race for titles in the minors?” To be honest, there is no good answer to that question.

Volkswagen on the way?
It’s been confirmed that Volkswagen officials are meeting with NASCAR to discuss possible entry into the sport. With VW about to start building sedans in Tennessee in 2011, their entry would be allowed by NASCAR. We’ll see what comes of this, and it may not pan out, but in the meantime I have this great image in my head of a vintage VW bus trying to make a 200 mph lap at Texas or Talladega.

Keselowski playing it cool, while Hamlin plays the fool

The way Denny Hamlin is acting, you would think Brad Keselowski slapped his mother in the face or killed his kittens.

Hamlin, who for some reason has a giant concrete block on his shoulder when it comes to Brad, made good on his promise to turn Keselowski in Saturday’s Nationwide race at Homestead, and after the race he seemed happier than if he had won the race.

While I think Denny Hamlin is continuing to act like a child and holding onto a completely uncalled-for amount of animosity (more on that further down), there’s one other thing that’s come out of all this: NASCAR finally has a legitimate rivalry, something that is pretty much nonexistent in the “kumbaya” atmosphere of today’s NASCAR garage

Based on the comments to media after the race, it’s obvious these two guys think very little of each other. That makes for great drama and great competition, something sorely missing from NASCAR lately.

Every time Hamlin got close to Keselowski early in the race, it added needed drama to the race. Fans were on the edge of their seat, wondering what was going to happen. It was like the old days when Ernie Irvan made a long list of enemies and fans wondered what they would do to him on the track on raceday.

Without the rivalry, this would have been a decent season finale for the Nationwide series. With the rivalry, it was awesome. Honestly, I hope they never kiss and make up, as they’ll be racing each other at least once each weekend for many years to come. (Including today in the Cup race.)

The irony of it all: Hamlin was driving Saturday for CJM Racing in a car sponsored by the Web site … I thought wrath was a sin, Denny.

Different attitudes

This is a great rivalry for the sport, but I am also interested in the whole thing from a psychological perspective. When looking at how both sides are reacting to this rivalry and the incidents it has created, it is clear that one side is enjoying the fun involved with it, while the other is losing sleep.

The driver enjoying this battle of wits and racecars is Keselowski. Take, for example, this radio exchange between him and crew chief Tony Eury Sr. immediately after he was spun by Hamlin.
Pops: “That boy will never learn. He didn’t do it good enough.”
Brad K: “That was fun”
(FYI: Brad not only saved his car after being hit by Hamlin; he also drove on to a 12th place finish despite the incident. Not too shabby.)

Then there were Brad’s comments after the race, in which he not-so-subtly hinted that Hamlin needed to get over it and stop whining so much.
“I kind of laughed in the car. I though it was a little funny. I don’t really hold any grudges and I’m ready to move on. Hell, I’ve already moved on. Hopefully, he feels the same way. I have a feeling when he wakes up in the morning he’s not going to feel any better about himself. He’s got a lot of problems, on and off the racetrack, and I don’t think spinning me is going to make him happy.”

That’s the best way to deal with this type of situation. Brad even went the gentleman route and said he has moved on and wouldn’t plan on any future retaliation against Hamlin in reaction to Saturday’s spinout. It’s like when there is a big fight, and you start to speak in a calm manner, the person yelling at you will become more mad because you’re not yelling back.

In this battle, Hamlin is the yeller. He is the one whining and crying every week about how terrible Keselowski has treated him. Riddle me this then, Denny. If he’s so bad, how come he’s never wrecked when you hit him, but you always wreck when he hits you?

In stark contrast to Brad’s comments, here’s what Denny had to say after the race, in which he finished 5th.
“I feel great right now. It was all worth it,” he said, simply giddy about the spinout. “The fact is I wasn’t going to give him an inch … We’ll never be even.”

Hamlin went on to talk about how he believes he is inside Keselowski’s head now.
“It’s going to be other times when we’ll be racing. He’s still going to think about it when I’m in his rearview mirror,” Hamlin said, before once again going on a rant about how Brad has wrecked him so much that he will always be owed payback.

Earth to Denny Hamlin: Get over yourself. Keselowski is not afraid of you. In fact, he’s laughing at you, and that’s making you more and more mad.

And while Hamlin keeps referring to this laundry list of teams that were happy when he wrecked Keselowski, I’m having a hard time coming up with many teams who would be on that list. Brad hadn’t been known as an overly aggressive driver or disliked around the garage, so I’m not sure where Hamlin’s getting his members of this alleged anti-Keselowski club.

Regardless of what Hamlin might think, he’s the one who is letting this rivalry drive him nuts, while Keselowski is just enjoying the ride and laughing at how this allegedly veteran driver can’t handle a little competition. It’s truly bizarre to watch Hamlin’s obsession with Keselowski grow.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Johnson extension is bad news for competitors

Earlier this week, I wrote about how the other teams are going to have to step up next year and beyond if they want to end Hendrick Motorsports’ stranglehold on the title.

Their job didn’t get any easier with the announcement Friday that Johnson has signed on to stay at the #48 team through 2015. While nobody is surprised, this officially means the Hendrick team is holding on to all the key players it needs to maintain its dominance of the sport. A lifetime deal to keep crew chief Chad Knaus is in the works (Hendrick said it was too pricey to lock Johnson into a lifetime deal, so JJ’s obviously getting paid pretty well).

Looking at the Hendrick lineup that’s now solidify for several years, it’s pretty intimidating:
-- They have Jimmie Johnson. Enough said.
-- A rejuvenated Mark Martin is signed through 2011. He will continue to compete for titles, even at age 51 and 52.
-- Jeff Gordon will continue driving the #24 until about 2013, when he’ll likely retire after a 20-plus year career. He’s not as great as he once was, but will continue to win races and finish well in the points.
-- Then there’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s the weakest link on the team and has struggled lately, but won’t be going anywhere. He’ll stick around because he’s a cash cow and Rick Hendrick sees him like his own son. Despite his struggles, those who dislike him shouldn’t get used to him finishing 24th in points. It’s not likely to be a common occurrence.

Just like Gordon, who is co-owner of the #48 car, Johnson will be the rare driver who spends his entire Cup career in one car and with one sponsor. And he will continue to be good. After this four-year stretch of absolute success, you know Hendrick couldn’t wait to lock Johnson down for the long-term future.

Now that it’s done, the target is on his back. I hope, as a fan of NASCAR, that someone has good enough aim to hit that target and reach the level of the #48 team next year. If not, NASCAR might as well rename the championship trophy the Hendrick Trophy.

Kahne looking to move
Reports swirled Friday that Kasey Kahne may be looking to leave Richard Petty Motorsports after the 2010 season. This is something I and other media members suggested months ago, as it was painfully obvious. It doesn’t take a psychic to recognize this, as it’s just common sense that because the team is struggling, Kahne might want to go somewhere where he might have a chance to compete for a championship.

The bottom line: Unless RPM drastically steps up its game in 2010, it’s probably going to be the last season there for Kahne.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stewart’s success, Edwards’ struggles biggest surprises of 2009

Going into this season, one thing was for sure in the minds of fans and the media: Coming off 9 wins in 2008, Carl Edwards would compete for the title in 2009. He had momentum and would carry it over to the new season.

One thing was not so certain, and that was the fate of Tony Stewart, who was starting his first season as a team co-owner. He had taken over a team whose two cars, the #66 and #70, were bottom of the barrel and struggled to stay in the top-35 in 2008. Despite new drivers, new crew chiefs and a lot of help from Hendrick Motorsports, it seemed a tall task for the new Stewart-Haas Racing to have one or both of its drivers make the Chase.

So what happened?
The sure thing was a flop, and the big question mark turned into a resounding success. Funny how things work sometimes.

First, let’s look at the Edwards situation, which is indicative of a hugely disappointing year as a whole for the Roush operation. Matt Kenseth won the first two races, then struggled all year and missed the Chase. Jamie McMurray, with one foot out the door, has just one highlight when he won at Talladega. Greg Biffle made the Chase, but didn’t win all year and had no impact in the Chase. David Ragan, last year’s amazing success story when he surged and almost made the Chase, came back to reality hard in 2009, with only 2 top-10s all year.

Edwards has been the best of the bunch, and almost won at Talladega before he went flying, but 7 top-5s and 13 top-10s is pretty bad for a guy who won nine races last year. Point blank: The Roush cars, when compared the Hendrick cars, were just off. I’m not sure if the Roush cars went backward or the Hendrick cars went forward, but either way Jack needs his drivers and car and engine builders to step up big time in 2010. Whatever they did in 2009, they need to do the opposite because it just didn’t work.

Now on to Stewart, who I and many others in the media doubted could compete for wins and make the Chase. No way could a team as garbage as Haas-CNC transform in one year to a competitor.

I was wrong. By putting the right people in place and changing the whole atmosphere at the team, Stewart has a bang-up start with 4 wins, after just 1 win in 2008 with Joe Gibbs Racing. He actually improved his performance despite the switch, which is just amazing. Crew chief Darian Grubb, nabbed from Hendrick, is a big part of the successful transition, as well as the driver of course.

I recognize the importance of the Hendrick help, but that didn;t mean the SHR team would be an automatic success. Not every satellite team is a winner (the Yates cars have Roush help, but don’t do great; Gibbs’ support of Hall of Fame racing didn’t do much to help, etc.)

Having help from the best team in NASCAR is a factor, but solid performances by Stewart, Ryan Newman and both of their crews have turned a zero team into a contender, surprising many doubtful NASCAR fans in 2009.

I can't wait until 2010, when we'll see once again who surprises and who disappoints.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Keeping up with the Johnsons

As much as I dislike Darrell Waltrip as a live race broadcaster (I’m not a fan of the “boogity boogity” atmosphere on that network), the man is pretty insightful if you’ve ever heard him talk about NASCAR and its drivers in a different setting. His knowledge, gained from decades of history in the sport, give him insight into NASCAR most commentators don’t have.

For example, prior to this season he predicted Juan Pablo Montoya would make the Chase this year … despite the fact Montoya was racing for a brand new EGR team with so many unknowns. DW may be annoying at times, but he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the drivers in this sport.

As I watched DW appear on a SPEED program Sunday night, he made an interesting point about how to stop Jimmie Johnson’s dominance in the sport. To paraphrase, he said that you don’t drag down the quality of Jimmie Johnson’s team, you bring the level of the competition up to the level of the #48 team.

And he is right. Jimmie and the #48 team are not going to get any worse. So now we are presented with a critical question: How can this raising of the bar for the other teams be accomplished?

What can be done by Jack Roush, Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs, and even the other Hendrick teams, to get them up to a level that would allow them to derail the Johnson championship train, which appears to have no end in sight.

Here is my game plan for the competition.

Get their crew chief/driver relationships to a new level

One of the major reasons that Johnson wins so much is that Chad Knaus and him are so well in tune with each other. Knaus knows how to set the car up so Jimmie will be comfortable, and the communication from Jimmie to Knaus about how the car is running is detailed enough for Knaus to make the proper adjustments to improve the car and improve their position during races. The other teams need to reach this level of understanding between their two main players if they hope to compete with Johnson.

Start up front, out of harm’s way, and stay there
One reason Johnson wins titles is that he doesn’t wreck much. That’s why the Texas wreck was such a shock to see. So how does he do this? Easy – he starts up front and stays ahead of most of the wrecks, which rarely occur among the leaders. The only reason he got in the Texas wreck was because he didn’t qualify well, and that only happens a handful of times each year. Most weeks, he’s in the top-5 or top-10 to start the race. For anyone to take his crown in 2010, they’ll need to do well on Fridays and Sundays.

Pray that the law of averages eventually applies to Johnson
No matter how much the other teams step up, there still isn’t a guarantee anyone will topple Johnson. His 4-year run goes against all the odds, even beyond what the last wonderboy Jeff Gordon did in the late 1990s. Gordon at least had his title runs interrupted by Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte. Johnson isn’t letting anyone crash his party. I would say it’s unlikely anyone will take 5 in a row, but I’d be lying. Last year, I was optimistic and said Carl Edwards, coming off 9 wins and a second-place points run in 2008, would claim the 2009 title and end JJ’s run. I guess that didn’t work out.

No. This year, I am not going to make a prediction based on hope, and will look at the facts. Until someone shows they can beat Jimmie Johnson, he will be the title favorite, in 2010 and beyond.

But I wish the other teams good luck. All the fans are rooting for them to catch up, to save us from the Johnson bore machine.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: A Johnson ‘Butt-whooping’

Jimmie Johnson did what he does best on Sunday … kick butt when it counts.

After all the excitement and buzz that was created when he finished 38th last week and the points race got tighter, giving Mark Martin some hope, a harsh dose of reality set in for Johnson’s competitors, with what he referred to as a ‘butt-whooping’ performance.

He dominated the race and made sure everyone knows he is the champion and intends to keep that crown. Even his Hendrick teamates can't keep up with him, and they're the only ones who really had a shot.

Barring another Sam Hornish Lap 3 spin at Homestead that collects Jimmie, four in a row is a foregone conclusion. If Martin win s and leads the most laps, Johnson only needs to finish 25th, due to a massive 108-point lead.

The fact that Johnson still has that massive lead, despite his terrible finish last week, is evidence of just how much better they have performed in the Chase this year. Even with one very bad day, he is killing the competition.

Due to the Chase format, many will discount this historic achievement of four in a row as gimmicky and not on par with the titles of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt. But all of that is just opinion.

It doesn’t change the fact he is on his way to four straight titles. All the other drivers play under Chase rules, and no one has been better for the past four years. Whether it's driver, crew chief, car or a combination of all of them, the team is just better than its competition.

It's boring as sin for the fans, and bad for the sport as a whole (It’s hard to tell fans the sport is competitive and fun to watch when one guy dominates.)
But it’s the reality of NASCAR today.

And if the #48 team continues its amazing level of success in 2010 and beyond, four straight could be just the beginning of how this team rewrites history, whether we like it or not.

Can somebody get Denny Hamlin a tissue?

It’s official: Denny Hamlin is the biggest crybaby in NASCAR.

The latest chapter in his ongoing feud with Brad Keselowski erupted at Phoenix in Saturday’s Nationwide race.

Here’s the short version of what happened: Hamlin tries to wreck Keselowski, who ends up saving his car, then Keselowski returns the favor and Hamlin spins. I’ll admit Keselowski’s payback was a bit blatant and perhaps overly harsh, and he was talked to by NASCAR about the incident, but the fact remains that Hamlin started it all by hitting Keselowski.

At first glance at the replay, it looked like Brad was living up to reputation as a battering ram. But as they say, you get what you give. Looking back further at the footage, it was clear that Hamlin initiated the bumping battle, and racers don’t forget and usually retaliate in the next corner. Hamlin should know that by now.

As usual, Hamlin was in full whining mode after the race, and said he will put Keselowski in the fence in next week’s Nationwide race.

"I'm just happy that I signed up for next week's Nationwide race,'' Hamlin said. "There's a lot of guys that owe him. There's a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they're going to cash in. I'm just going to be the first to the pay window.''

If Hamlin does this at Homestead, I hope NASCAR parks him for the rest of the Nationwide race and suspends him from the Cup race. That’s what they did to Kevin Harvick in 2002 at Martinsville, when he threatened to wreck another driver in the Truck race and them went out and did it. Parking Hamlin would only be consistent with that ruling.

Hamlin went on, saying he told Keselowski: “I just want you to know when I wreck you, don't be mad. We still won't be even.” He indicated the NASCAR officials would condone his actions if he wrecked Keselowski, something they have denied.

Keselowski explained after the race that he was able to save his car after Hamlin’s bump, but Hamlin couldn’t save him car after being bumped by Brad. This obviously bruised Hamlin’s fragile ego.
"Let me tell you something. The one thing he ain't got is more talent then me,” he said.
This whole incident shows that Keselowski has gotten into Hamlin’s head so bad, it’s driving him crazy. Hamlin seems obsessed with Brad, and constantly wants to call him names … the latest being “a complete moron” and “a total whackjob”.

Hamlin has long had a sense of entitlement, and basically expects Nationwide regulars to pull over for him when he races in that series. He’s mad because Keselowski is standing up to him, and not letting Hamlin push him around on the track.

I’m not giving Keselowski a free pass here, either. I recognize that he can be overly aggressive at times, and that will become more under control he gains more experience in Cup and is racing against bigger names he respects more.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Hamlin is doing nothing but bash Keselowski, yet failing to admit that this is a two-way street and both drivers have been on the hitting end. It’s like O.J. Simpson syndrome. He’s convinced himself he did nothing wrong, and it’s all somebody else’s fault.

I suggest everyone mail Hamlin a box of Kleenex, because at the rate he’s whining lately, he’s going to need a lot of them.

Mario car pretty cool
Despite the person driving it, I was digging the Super Mario paint scheme on the #20. Very cool for all of us old-school Nintendo fans.

Steven Wallace comedy show continues
Watching Steven Wallace’s tire doing a lap around the track due to a pit road miscue is the latest comedy of errors on that #66 team. Rusty must be very frustrated with how the team is performing in 2009, between all the wrecks and stupid mistakes like this.

Nadeau comeback?
Out of racing for about 6 years due to a head injury, Jerry Nadeau may be looking to get back into racing. It’s been reported that he was at the track in Phoenix, and is telling people that he hopes to raise funds that will allow him to run in the Grand-Am series in 2010.

It’s never easy recovering from a head injury, but I wish him luck in his efforts to get back into racing.

Hornaday’s 4th title puts him in elite company

On Saturday, Kevin Harvick Inc.’s main driver, Ron Hornaday, clinched his fourth Truck series title, and his second for KHI.
The same day, team owner Harvick won the race at Phoenix in a second truck.

Solid day, to say the least.

Hornaday has won 4 Truck titles, and it was mentioned on the broadcast that the only people to do this in the top 3 NASCAR series before him are Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon.

But what does it mean when all his titles came in the less-heralded Truck series, where the talent level overall isn’t up to par with the Cup series?

Hornaday had quick stints in Cup (in a weak A.J.-Foyt owned car), and in Nationwide (driving for RCR, where he actually did pretty well), but never achieved the level of success he saw in Trucks.

I say that’s no indictment of Hornaday, as not everyone will be a Cup star, and anyone who would downplay these four titles hasn’t seen Hornaday race much, because he’s pretty impressive. While I recognize the overall talent in Trucks is less than Cup, historically the Truck series has been more competitive than the Cup series, which means his 4 titles are indeed very impressive.

Congrats to Hornday and KHI, who couldn’t have scripted a more perfect weekend.

Kyle Busch a team owner?
It’s been long-rumored that Kyle Busch may start his own Truck and/or Nationwide series team in 2010, following in the footsteps of other driver-owners like Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. At only 24 years of age, that would be a bold move, but it’s possible he could achieve some success since he’s shown he knows how to win in that series.

The biggest concern he should have: How much will the team distract him from him efforts to compete for wins and titles in the Cup series?

Gordon may be part-timer in 2010
Not that many people would notice, given how badly he has performed in 2009, but Robby Gordon may be around after the first 8 race next year. The money isn’t there after sponsor Jim Beam announced it is leaving the sport.

I love Robby Gordon as a personality, but as a driver he has never really been all that great outside of road courses in NASCAR. Meanwhile, he’s awesome at his other racing endeavours (Baja 1000, etc.) and is regarded as a great talent outside of NASCAR. In the end, it may be the best for him if he sticks to those series.

The biggest impact of him leaving would be that one less team would show up to qualify each week, putting us even closer to short fields in the Cup series.

TRG team on the right track
Despite the #71 team being a start-and-park for much of the 2009 season, team owner Kevin Buckler always insisted he was on the right track. When I spoke to Buckler earlier this season, he said this year was about building toward a competitive 2010.

With the announcement at Phoenix Saturday that Bobby Labonte will remain the team’s driver in 2010, and that Taxslayer has signed on as sponsor for 12 races, he is well on the way to achieving that goal of being competitive next season.

Labonte may not have won in a while, but he has shown in recent years that he can run well when he has a good machine. If Buckler can get the funding to make sure Labonte will be able to race every week, I can see the team moving up a notch to about a mid-pack team (about 25th in points) as opposed to a 37th-place team. That’s progress, and it certainly helps when you have a past champion like Bobby Labonte driving, which means you’re almost guaranteed to make the races.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why is Toyota out of F1, but still in NASCAR? Because they can win.

Anyone who got excited when they heard Toyota was pulling out of Formula 1, thinking maybe a NASCAR exit was next to come, was quickly disappointed.

Toyota Racing Development president Lee White said this week that the Japanese carmaker's decision to get out of Formula 1, a series where it just hasn’t been able to achieve much success, "has no bearing on its NASCAR programme. It (the decision) should have no effect whatsoever on our NASCAR programme, our NASCAR plans and our NASCAR future. We remain completely committed to NASCAR and NASCAR is completely committed to us.”

Why stay in one and not the other? That’s easy: Success.

Toyota has done what a lot of anti-Toyota NASCAR fans feared when it was announced they were coming to NASCAR. They’ve won on all levels.

Toyota has aligned itself with solid teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, put in the money needed to develop its cars, and is being rewarded with solid finishes.

In the Truck series, they have won the manufacturers’ title for the past four seasons and run up front each week. They will claim the Nationwide title this year with Kyle Busch, and the Joe Gibbs Toyotas pretty much own that series on a weekly basis, often battling between each other for the win.
In Cup, they have yet to win a title, but have an impressive number of wins between the Gibbs, MWR and Red Bull teams.

Considering how it all started, the success is amazing. Michael Waltrip’s Toyota was busted for the infamous jet fuel violation, and the Toyota teams struggled to even qualify for many races. Slowly though, things improved, and now they couldn’t be happier with their Cup effort. Solid drivers like Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers, David Reutimann and Denny Hamlin are among their employees who can bring them wins each weekend.

Sure, Toyota drivers are not challenging Jimmie Johnson for the championship, but neither are any Ford or Dodge drivers. The only drivers close to Jimmie are his Hendrick teammates.

So while Toyota never could never reach the standards set by McLaren and Ferrari in the world of Formula 1, they are on a road to competing for NASCAR titles at the CUp level.

That’s why they’re they’re still in NASCAR, and will not return to Formula 1.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another year, more layoffs in the NASCAR garages

With the closure of the engine shop at Richard Petty Motorsports, the layoffs have begun in 2010 for NASCAR teams.

Last year was particularly bad for layoffs, many of which were caused by the closing of several teams as Earnhardt-Ganassi racing and RPM (Gillette + Petty Enterprises) came into being.

There's no way to tell how bad it will be this year, but it's clear many people will be looking for work. RPM is planning to merge with Yates Racing, which is known for its engines. So the RPM engine shop is shutting its doors, leaving dozens of people out of work.

In this latest merger, RPM will lose one of its four teams, so look for more layoffs at his team in the near future. Total number of lost employees from the RPM merger is expected to top 200. Ouch!

If the #07 team folds at RCR, look for another big number of layoffs there … and who knows what other teams are planning in the layoff department?

The economy may be recovering, but unfortunately for the team members receiving pink slips I don’t see a huge comeback in the NASCAR job market anytime soon.

I wish these laid-off employees luck, and hopefully they can find work elsewhere in the Cup garage, or in a lower series. If the job hunt in the garage is anything like it is in the real world, they’re going to need some luck.

Rides are scarce
How bad is the situation for the drivers who have yet to land a ride for 2010? They’re battling for the right to drive the #09 car, which does have a win with Brad Keselowski in 2009 but has also start-and-parked many times this year. Among the drivers battling for this suddenly premium ride are David Gilliland, David Stremme, Reed Sorenson and Casey Mears. This list reads like a who’s who list of drivers who have been given rides at decent teams (Yates, Ganassi, Penske, even Hendrick) and failed to live up to expectations. If you don’t have a ride at this point, there is usually a reason.

The reality is some of these guys will end up back in Nationwide next year, as there is only so many rides in Cup. Gilliland has the most upside, and has some races planned with the Joe Gibbs team that might set him up for another run in a decent ride. But the rest probably are not looking at too many options in the Cup series anytime soon. Mears’s story is just crazy … from Hendrick to RCR to battling for a possible start-and-park in a couple years. Unbelievable.

That’s Cup for you though. If the money’s not there, you’re on the sidelines or just barely in the game.

What the …
So it turns out that even though anyone with a brain just laughs at those lame Extenze commercials that are on late at night, some idiots are actually buying this product. How do I know? Driver Kevin Conway and the team sponsored by this product will attempt the run all three races at Phoenix, including an attempt in the Cup race in a second TRG car, #70.

Without getting too detailed here, let’s just say I’m going to crack up when I listen to the announcers try to describe his sponsor during qualifying.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bad luck finally catches Johnson, but is it too late for Martin?

Thank you, Sam Hornish.

While we, the NASCAR fan base, know that your wrecking of Jimmie Johnson was not intentional, we would still like to extend our deepest gratitude, as your little spin has caused the Chase to become remotely interesting again.

I kid, but not completely, with those sentiments.

If this had been another ho-hum Cup weekend, with Johnson running top-5 and probably winning the race, extending his points lead yet again, the next two weeks would have been nothing more than a warm-up for 2010, with the conclusion wrapped up.

Now, the tricky track at Phoenix and the exciting high banks of Homestead may actually have some meaning in the battle for the championship.

In all likelihood, Johnson will still take the title, as you can bet Chad Knaus will provide him with cars capable of winning the last two races, and he’ll have to run into some more bad luck.

Still, it would be one of the best stories in sports, not just NASCAR, if Martin could somehow complete a comeback and with the title as a 50-year-old driver. Four times a bridesmaid, Martin insists he didn’t come back full-time just to win a title. But we all know that deep down, that’s still on his mind, and he wants more than anyone out there to get that championship.

I’m sure he’s not lying when he says it’s an honor just to drive cars for Hendrick Motorsports, but Mark’s been through so much heartbreak that he’s probably just lowering expectations so he doesn’t get disappointed.

While it’s likely Johnson will still take the crown, I’m looking forward to watching Martin try to snag it away from him and complete an amazing comeback.

And I have Sam Hornish to thank for it all. Maybe I should add him to my Christmas card list.

Texas run shows Dale Jr. may be on right track

It was a bizarre day for Rick Hendrick’s team Sunday. Golden boy Jimmie Johnson wrecked early and ran many laps down. Jeff Gordon told reporters he’s “terrible” at Texas, and struggled most of the day. And while Martin was decent all day and finished 4th, another Hendrick car was ahead of him and in the top-5 for much of the day: That’s right, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who hasn’t exactly had a banner year.

Jr. ended up losing that good finish after he stalled while pitting for fuel at the end of the race, but despite that I’m sure it was nice for his fans to finally see him doing decent for almost a full race. Perhaps it’s a sign that the team is finally getting its act together as it prepares to turn over a new, winning, leaf in 2010.

KB almost makes history
Blame it on the fuel.

After taking wins in both the Nationwide and Truck series this weekend, Kyle Busch was two laps away from completed a historic triple win.
Then he ran out of fuel. Maybe we can amend the record book and say the Busch brothers swept the triple at Texas.

Despite losing the win, it was a solid race for Kyle in his first weekend with new crew chief Dave Rogers, as he led the most laps and nearly made history. It’s been a while since he had such a dominant race.

Farewell win for elder KB’s crew chief
Forget what I said about Pat Tryson’s impending departure affecting the ability of Kurt Busch to win in the Chase. The team did a great job of saving fuel and came home with a win in one the last races with Tryson as crew chief.

In other Penske Racing team news, Brad Keselowski’s debut at the team didn’t go so hot, as he was involved in a wreck and finished in the 30s.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kudos to ESPN for standing up to NASCAR

It’s pretty rare you watch a sporting event where the announcers admit it’s boring. After all, it’s their job to make it seem exciting so more people will continue to watch.

But at Talladega, when the race was basically single-file for most of the day, ESPN’s announcers called it what it was – boring.

I applaud this honesty, as it’s something you don’t see often in sports broadcasting. NASCAR, on the other hand, doesn’t agreement with my assessment.

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston spoke out this week about the broadcast and suggested the hosts, including former Cup champion Dale Jarrett, "certainly weren't happy with the race and felt compelled to remind viewers of that virtually every lap. ... And along the way, ABC missed a lot of very good racing."

I’m not sure what race he was watching, but that wasn’t good racing. Defending the race is pure arrogance and evidence that NASCAR can’t admit its failures no matter had bad they are. Tony Stewart even asked his crew during the race to tell him something interesting "so I don't fall asleep out here".

It’s pretty petty of a sporting organization to blast the TV coverage of its sport. You’d think they had more important things to do … like figuring out how to make Dega racing better.

ESPN also has made other subtle digs at NASCAR this season, such as mentioning the start-and-park teams by name, condescendingly saying things like: “gotta save those tires for the last two races”. It’s clear the announcers who do that don’t like the concept of start-and-parks, and are not afraid to say it, even though NASCAR tries to talk about these teams as little as possible.

I’m glad a network is willing to say what it wants about the product it is broadcasting. That is their right, considering how much money ESPN has invested to get back into broadcasting NASCAR races. The France family shouldn’t dictate what kind of coverage is provided, and their defense of the Talladega race just doesn’t hold up.

I respect that ESPN is standing their ground. It’s risky, as criticisms like this might put them in jeopardy of losing the NASCAR TV contract when it comes up for renewal in five years.

They deserve credit for telling the viewers the truth, despite knowing that NASCAR would not react favorably.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

2010 will be a year of Danica Patrick obsession

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word obsession as: “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling”.

Now that ESPN is reporting Indycar superstar Danica Patrick will be driving a dozen or so Nationwide races and some ARCA races for JR Motorsports in 2010, expect next season to be dominated by an obsession with Danica Patrick.

I admit the story is big news. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be mentioning it.
But after watching a full half-hour of discussion about this one news item on an ESPN program last night, I was about ready to vomit.

Danica Patrick is a talented race car driver, but she has done very little in her career that is overly impressive. She had some good runs in the Indy 500, but won just one race in her half-decade in Indycar. If you did a TV commercial-per-win ratio, she would be the champion by a mile.

If Danica wasn’t a woman, there would close to zero hype about her, and a move to stock cars would be about as hyped as the switching of Max Papis or Patrick Carpentier to stock cars.

As I watched an endless number of commentators and guests comment on how great Danica is and how great it is for NASCAR that she’s coming over to stock cars, I realized just how ridiculous the media is going to be during this possible transition to NASCAR. It was only Day 1 of the news coming out, and they didn’t even mention a single news item that wasn’t Danica-related.

One thought kept popping up in my head as the endless parade of praise continued: This is all we’re going to hear from February to November.

During that time span, anytime Danica appears in an ARCA or Nationwide race, she’ll eat up all the screen time. It will be, “Where’s Danica running” on a constant loop, peppered with “It’s going to be a tough learning curve” when she screws up and “She’s really making a great transistion” when she does well.

Personally, I might just watch the races on mute, just to avoid a Danica overdose.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If EGR switches to Toyota, just call it Ganassi Racing

Imagine this announcement coming from the speakers in the late 1990s at a Cup track: “Introducing Dale Earnhardt, driver of the #3 GM Goodwrench Toyota Camry!”

I don’t think it ever would have happened, under any circumstances. And the many fans of the Earnhardts would not be pleased.

But now, there are rumors the team that still holds his name (which is essentially a Chip Ganassi team) wants to switch to using Toyotas next year. If that happened, drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and presumably Jamie McMurray would field Toyotas for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

Something tells me this would not go over well.

I’m all for teams doing whatever is necessary to survive. But if this happens, I have a suggestion that would make everyone a lot happier. Teresa should withdraw from the team and it should be called Chip Ganassi Racing.

The idea that a team including Dale Earnhardt’s name would field Toyota’s is unimaginable to me. I’m not a Toyota hater, but I’m pretty sure he would not approve. Out of respect, if this deal goes through, Teresa should let Ganassi buy her out and be gone.

It makes sense anyway, regardless of this deal. Teresa is never at the track, makes no real decisions at the team and is an owner in name only, basically just collecting a paycheck. Since her husband died, she has had little to no interest in the sport. This is understandable, considering it’s the sport that took his life.

So why is the Earnhardt name still on a team? What’s the point?

Unless Ganassi absolutely needs Teresa’s involvement for the team to exist, I see no reason why she needs to keep the Earnhardt name involved, especially if the team switches to Toyota.

Early start at Penske for Kes
In a move I was not expecting, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, having fulfilled his obligations to Hendrick Motorsports and the #09 team, will get an early start in his new ride at Penske, replacing David Stremme for the final three races of the year. Even though it’s a new car for him, this will be a good opportunity to see whether the #12 car’s struggles this year were more car or driver. I don’t expect miracles, but it’s obvious Brad is a better driver than Stremme and should get better finishes out of the car (or at least spin out a lot less).

Look for Stremme to return to Nationwide racing next year, as he did pretty well driving for Rusty Wallace in 2008. If he lands a decent ride, he can thrive there. So far, he’s 2-for-2 in losing Cup rides, so don’t expect him to seek a third try immediately. He’s running out of strikes.

Attorney says Mayfield owes him money
Attorney Bill Diehl says Jeremy Mayfield owes him “a lot” of money and vows to collect. News flash: The guy owes a lot of people money. I’m pretty sure Diehl knew from the start that Mayfield wasn’t going to pay him, and that he took the case for publicity, just as Mayfield’s current attorneys are doing.

It’s also highly unprofessional of an attorney to speak publicly about money owed to him by a client, but that’s a whole different issue. Regardless of what was promised, I have some hard news to break to Diehl: You’re never going to see that money.

Of course, that’s not really news. I’m pretty sure he already knew that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The new Talladega: Dangerous, boring, ridiculous

I feel sorry for anyone who actually sat through the entire live broadcast of Sunday’s race
at Talladega, because that wasn’t a race.

You could call it many other things: A parade, an accident waiting to happen, a complete farce.

But it wasn’t a race.

It’s ironic that a tribal medicine man was recently brought to Talladega to clear up some bad mojo that was allegedly lingering there, because he really should have gone to the NASCAR headquarters in Daytona to do his dance. Brian France, Mike Helton and crew have ruined this race, plain and simple.

Newman said it best after his wreck: "No one watching enjoys this. Well I hope not, if you do. you just don't belong here"

Jeff Gordon had a good one, too: “At least we were able to run out of gas on time, so we could get to the pits, get back out on the track and destroy our car.”

Then there is Mark Martin, whose title hopes were ruined by the stupidity that Talladega has become. He wanted to rip NASCAR a new one, but he didn’t. He’s too nice. “Congratulations to Jamie McMurray. That’s about all I know about this race” was what he said, but you could tell he wanted to cuss them out.

Two things remain true about Talladega.
1. Plate racing remains dangerous, and one of these wrecks will eventually kill someone again. There has to be another way to slow the cars down without creating these tight packs. (And while we’re at it … can we get some roof flaps that actually work and stop the cars from flying?)
2. The new rule restricting bump-drafting basically forced the drivers to run single-file, for fear of being penalized. This begs the question that if they’re not allowed to race, why should the fans watch?

There is a terrible new formula for the race. 150 laps of parade, followed by 30 laps of scary crashes. I seriously thought Newman was dead (luckily his radio was just disconnected), and if he had died then NASCAR would have been to blame for creating the situation.

I’m putting this race on the level with the restrictor plate race they held at New Hampshire, as it was one of the worst races I’ve seen in the dozen years I’ve been watching the sport. And I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.

Jimmie wraps it up
In other news, write Jimmie Johnson’s name on the trophy. Under the previous points system, both Tony Stewart (-7) and Jeff Gordon (-72) would be realistically in the title hunt. As it stands now, Johnson leads Mark Martin by 184 points, and Gordon by 192. It’s official. This Chase is a dud, and stinks like a manure farm.

Somehow, Johnson’s strategy of staying in back all day, then moving up the front late, worked for him. He finished in the top-10 and all his competitors wrecked. Congrats Jimmie, but you’re boring me to tears with this. Four straight titles is just sick, and I don’t think it’s good for the sport.

Surprising finishes
Talladega always has some interesting finishes, as guys who don’t normally do well will have solid days if they avoid trouble. The biggest surprise this time is Robert Richardson Jr., who drove the #36 car of Tommy Baldwin racing to 18th in his first Cup race ever. Reed Sorenson was 16th, Bobby Labonte was 10th in the #71 TRG Motorsports car, Elliott Sadler was 9th in his first race in a Ford for RPM and Michael Waltrip was 7th.

Don’t blame Brad
Lastly, a lot of people online have been critical of Brad Keselowski, saying it was his fault that last big wreck happened. They would be wrong. Just like in the spring, NASCAR’s rules forced another bad wreck. I could see why some people might jump to this conclusion, given Brad’s recent history of aggressive driving at other tracks, but it’s not that simple. Brad got pushed and hit another car, and that’s not his fault. It’s the fault of an organization that forces dangerous restrictor plate racing on the drivers.

A truly strange Formula 1 season comes to an end

To say the 2009 Formula 1 season was strange would be an understatement.

The championship was won by Jenson Button, a driver whose hopes at a title had long been written off, and he was driving for a Brawn Racing team that brand new and had never competed in Formula 1 before this year. Despite this, Button went out and won six of the first races of the season, which came in handy in the points as the other teams almost caught up at the end of the season.

So who was the next best team? Ferrari? McLaren?

Wrong. It was Red Bull, with a young Sebastian Vettel who looks like the next Michael Schumacher, and a resurgent Mark Webber. This team had never been a serious contender, but now it appears that Vettel is without a doubt among the favorites to win the 2010 title. He won four races, and the sky’s the limit for Vettel and the Red Bull team as a whole.

Then, of course, there was the little matter of almost all the teams threatening to leave and start their own series in another F1 power struggle. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and a compromise was reached.

So what about those two perennial favorites: Ferrari and McLaren … how did they do?
Not so well.
McLaren stumbled out the gate, with last year’s champ Lewis Hamilton not hitting his stride until the second half of the season, dooming McLaren’s title hopes. It does look like the team is back on track and will contend again in 2010, but this year was pretty much a waste.

Over at Ferrari, there was much drama. First, Felipe Massa gets blasted in the eye with a suspension part in a scary wreck and almost died. He’ll be back next year, but that was pretty scary. Giancarlo Fisichella filled in, but didn’t do much of note to end the year in that ride. The other seat, driven by ex-champ Kimi Raikonnen, was also full of drama, as he was released from his contract (at a reported cost of tens of millions of dollars … it’s amazing how much money is thrown around in this sport. Amazingly, he is demanding about $30 million per year from whatever team he moves to next, so he may not even be driving next year.) In his place next year at Ferrari will be another champion, Fernando Alonso. Ferrari is like the Yankees of Formula 1, they have to buy the best players.

What’s going to happen in 2010? That’s a good question. More new teams, including a U.S.-based team, are coming into the sport. This will shake things up, but don’t expect any Brawn-like debuts. That was a miracle season that won’t happen again for any newcomers.

I predict a return to the usual order: Massa, Alonso and Hamilton at the big two powers, and Vettel at Red Bull, will mix it up for the title, with possible involvement from Button again. And don’t be surprised if the champion is wearing red once again next year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Is NASCAR only worried about safety when stars are in trouble?

Normally, practice sessions during a NASCAR weekend are far from exciting as television programming. Usually, everyone is just making laps, no one races each other hard, and it’s just an opportunity to fine-tune the cars before qualifying or the race.

Not so at Talladega, where tempers were flaring during a couple practice sessions Friday that was more interesting than some races I’ve seen in recent weeks.

There was 4-wide racing, and some really close bump-drafting. Not surprisingly, with all this tight racing action, there were some wrecks as a result.
The news highlight of the sessions was Michael Waltip being parked for the final half hour of the last practice by NASCAR, after driving too aggressively while bump-drafting behind Jimmie Johnson.

Waltrip had been warned by NASCAR, which is being cautious after the wild end to the spring Talladega race and is policing bump-drafting closely, and he didn’t back off. Hence the parking.

Another more humorous note involves Kyle Busch, who wasn’t happy with how Jimmie Johnson was racing him in the first practice. On the radio, he joked with his crew chief that maybe Jimmie’s brother Jarit Johnson (a driver in the lower regional series who hasn’t yet made the leap to the big 3 series) was really behind the wheel.
That’s pretty harsh on Jarit, who’s just out there racing wherever he can each week, but talk like that shows how testy things can be at Talladega … and this was just practice!

On the Waltrip issue, I am somewhat disturbed. I recognize the need for safety, especially after Edwards’ wild ride, but selectively choosing when bump-drafting is bad and when it’s OK will only fuel conspiracy theories. I and others are probably wondering why the penalty was given to someone bump-drafting the points leader, not someone bump-drafting Casey Mears for example.

Are they just out to protect their biggest stars? It certainly appears that could be a possibility.

The biggest problem with NASCAR’s argument is that bump-drafting was created by them when they made the drivers use restrictor plates and bunched them up so much. If NASCAR can’t come up with a different way to slow the cars down, they shouldn’t get mad when cars they forced so close together make a little contact.

#3 truck fails inspection

In a surprise ruling, the #3 truck that was supposed to be driven in Saturday’s truck race by Austin Dillon (Richard Childress’s grandson), failed inspection and didn’t race. It was too low, officials said, and did not meet the requirements.

That’s pretty amazing. The truck had a paint scheme reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt’s #3 car, and fans were looking forward to seeing it. Somebody must have screwed something up, but don’t worry. Dillon should be around for the long time, and that paint scheme will return.

In more positive Truck series new, the series will be using double-file restrats in 2010, and also return to allowing both tires and gas on a single pit stop. (I never really understood that rule anyway. It was just silly for them to all come down pit lane twice.)