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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Putting off ACL surgery has come back to bite Denny Hamlin

I knew it couldn’t be that easy.

When the report first came that Denny Hamlin had a torn ACL, everyone said it wasn’t a big deal. He could just deal with the pain for the year, many commentators said, and he was still a threat to take the championship away from Jimmie Johnson. The competitor in Hamlin told him to put off the surgery. He could deal with the pain, then take care of the problem in the offseason.

I never got that impression. I figured this couldn’t be as simple as, “He’ll gut it out.”

The reality is that’s not so easy with this kind of injury.

Now, afraid of possible permanent damage, he has to have the surgery, and will likely be in too much pain to race the full distance for at least a few weeks, starting at Phoenix. He will have to let someone else drive his car for several races -- after he takes it to the first caution, of course. That someone will be Casey Mears.

Unless Mears can put on some great performances (and the driver changes don’t take too long), the already struggling in points Hamlin may have just blown his shot at making the Chase and battling for the title by having this surgery now. I know hindsight is 20/20, but if Hamlin had done the surgery in January, his situation would be a lot better right now.

I’m not a doctor, but even I know that a torn ACL is a big problem, even in NASCAR. By putting off his surgery, Hamlin has created a situation where his dedication to the sport has hampered his chance to do well in it.

I don’t question his reasons, which were motivated by his dedication to racing … he is just like all the other racers who want to “play hurt” because they are true competitors.

Unfortunately for Hamlin, that decision may have led him into a disastrous season.

Shorten the race
After watching the thrilling 250-lap Truck series race at Martinsville, which featured great battles up front and through the field for 250 laps, a thought occurred to me: Why is the Cup race so damn long? At 500 laps, the Cup race is never exciting all the way through. The drivers race hard to start, settle in for about half the race, then race hard at the end. It’s just too tiring and hard on the car to battle full-throttle for 500 laps.

I would suggest cutting the race back to 400 laps, so there is more of a sense of urgency to get to the front. There would probably still be some lulls in the excitement levels, but it would better than the current 500-lap setup.

Brighter future for Mears?
His year hasn’t started so great, missing 5 of the first 6 races in his new ride at Keyed-Up Motorsports’ startup team, but this opportunity to back up Denny Hamlin could turn into a brighter future for Casey Mears, who has bounced around quite a bit during his time in the Cup series.

If he can turn in some decent runs backing up Hamlin, any team that needs to make a driver change mid-season might be willing to give Mears a go. Or perhaps a quality Nationwide or Truck series team might give him a shot. If Mears is smart, he’ll view this opportunity to back up Hamlin as an audition, and hopefully it will lead to something for him.

Rainy day all over
So both the Cup race in Martinsville and Indycar race in St. Petersburg were rescheduled due to rain, and the Formula 1 race in Australia was affected by the rain. Sounds like Mother Nature had a plan for all these racer types on Sunday. Also, I think a few people might call into work on Monday.

Great Formula 1 race
For those who follow Formula 1, there was a great battle Sunday in the Grand Prix of Australia. After the snoozer to open the season a couple weeks ago, this one was a thriller, full of pit strategy, side-by-side racing, and thrilling battles for position all day long. Too bad they all can’t be like this, because the series would be a lot more popular in America.

I also love the rivalry brewing at McLaren, where Jenson Button sailed to victory after a great pit strategy, while his teammate Lewis Hamilton was complaining about how the crew handled his strategy and was soon after involved in a wreck and finished 6th.
Can you say jealousy?

On one last F1 note, I’m pretty sure Michael Schumacher isn’t very happy with how his return to the sport is going. Not only is he not winning, he is being outperformed by his young teammate. Maybe coming back wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Twitter is big news
In this digital age, what qualifies as news continues to change.

I recently got a release celebrating the fact that Nationwide series driver Colin Braun had reached the 8,000-follower mark on Twitter, which expressed Braun’s gratitude for the fan response. A contest is in the works for when Braun reaches 10,000 followers.

Apparently Braun now ranks 20th among the top 35 NASCAR-related Tweeters … Funny, I wasn’t even aware such statistics were kept.
For the record, Juan Pablo Montoya is on top of the list with more than 135,500 followers, Danica Patrick has 123,500.

"Social media is such a great way to get fans closer to what I'm doing," Braun said. "I love being at autograph sessions or around the track, and I meet fans who say that they are following me on Twitter."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Keselowski already showing signs of patience

They call it teaching a rookie a lesson.

That’s the whole point of the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski rivalry, and the Denny Hamlin-Brad Keselowski rivalry, and the Greg Biffle-Joey Logano rivalry, and the Kevin Harvick-Joey Logano incident at Bristol … etc.

The older drivers aren’t going to be pushed around by some young punk who is just out of diapers in their mind. If they don’t get their respect, the kid is getting the chrome horn.

The most extreme example of this was Brad’s airborne flight at Atlanta, and after watching him race this past weekend at Bristol, I’d say he’s starting to understand the big picture better.

Brad had two solid races at Bristol, and didn’t put anyone in the wall. When racing for the win against teammate Justin Allgaier in the Nationwide race, he didn’t get too physical and the two waged a great battle for many laps. I recognize it was his teammate, but I don’t he would have smashed into his competitor even if it had been a non-teammate. Also, on Sunday, he raced side-by-side real peacefully with Carl Edwards for several laps, and didn’t have any incidents with any other drivers.

There’s two reasons for this. First of all, he is fresh off a long talk with NASCAR about the Edwards incident. Far too many people already see him as a wreck waiting to happen, and he doesn’t want to further that impression or his competitors won’t want to work with him on the track.

Second, he is starting to think big picture. While his Chase hopes are slim in Cup, he can still salvage an impressive season if he keeps running like he has run the past two weeks. A bunch of wrecks won’t help him stay up in the points. Also, in Nationwide, he is contending for a title, and there is no need to be overly aggressive and tear up race cars. It’s hard to win championships that way.

It’s a fine line. Keselowski (whose intro song at Bristol was “I Won’t Back Down”) can’t be seen as bowing to his elders, doing whatever they say. And he won’t.
But I believe he’s starting to realize that someone new to the sport like him has to be careful what he does depending on which driver he is battling. These unwritten rules about veterans and rookies may or may not be fair, but it’s the code drivers live by.

Keselowski is smart, and I believe he knows that while he should still be aggressive (all winning drivers are aggressive), there are times when it’s not necessary to make a move that might end up tearing up a couple race cars and bruising some egos.

And if you’ve got talent like Keselowski does, you don’t need to wreck cars to win. You can just drive to the front and do it clean.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Penske making Dodge proud with strong performance in 2010

When Brad Keselowski announced last year he was making the move from Hendrick Motorsports to Penske Racing, many people thought he was taking a big step down.

After seeing how Penske’s teams are performing in 2010, especially over the past couple weeks, it’s clear that the step wasn’t as far down as many believed at the time.

Fresh off Kurt Busch’s win at Atlanta (and a top-10 run by Keselowsi ruined by that little incident), the Penske cars took positions 1 and 2 in the Nationwide race at Bristol, with Justin Allgaier getting an overdue first win in the series, and Keselowski second. Then on Sunday, Kurt Busch led the most laps and should have won, but ended up falling to Jimmie Johnson at the very end.

Not too bad for an organization many thought would struggle as the lone Dodge operation in Cup this year. The addition of crew chief Steve Addington has been a huge factor in this resurgence, and you can bet that Joe Gibbs is kicking himself right now. Why on Earth did he let that guy go after he led Kyle Busch to so many victories? I’m guessing there’s more to the story than they are telling, because it makes absolutely no sense.

Regardless of why it happened, Addington is with Penske now and he has helped Kurt Bush, and the rest of the Penske teams, get better this year. Add in a quality driver like Keselowski to the mix, and you get the kind of resurgence the team is having in 2010. Don’t let the low points positions of Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr. fool you … they are better than those numbers and will move up as the year goes on.

It’s good to see Penske doing well, against all odds, and it gives the fans a solid underdog team to root for as the rest of the field tries to end the monotonous Hendrick domination that continues to dominate NASCAR in 2010.

Legends race marred by wreck
So I was watching a fun race with NASCAR legends including David Pearson and Dave Marcis and enjoying it tremendously, then I almost saw a guy die. Thankfully, I was watching it on a DVR, or I would have had to wait a half hour until I was told whether Larry Pearson, son of David, was alive after a horrific wreck that easity could have killed him when he was driven into by Charlie Glotzbach. (Thankfully, he and Glotzbach both survived.)

It’s too bad that had to happen, especially since it’s possible that incident might mean this event doesn’t return next year. I really enjoyed watching the race, and seeing Marcis and Pearson out there racing was pretty cool for me, as I never saw Pearson race during his career.

Many people will say this is proof it’s not same for the old-timers to race, but I want to see this fun event continue. The key: If they do come back, the cars need to be a lot safer that the ones they used Saturday.

Another Johnson win? Seriously?
OK. I understand Jimmie Johnson is a good race car driver, but this is getting ridiculous. This Twitter post I saw Sunday sums it up for me:
“Yawn. Jimmie Johnson wins again. Guess I'll find something else to do on Sundays. #NASCAR is putting me to sleep.”

Note to NASCAR: This is not an uncommon thought among fans in 2010. Don't believe what you hear from the so-called experts, Johnson's dominance is not a positive thing: It is turning people off from the sport.

What’s up Waltrip?
So it looks like Michael Waltrip did a start-and-park job for his buddy Phil Parsons in the #55 car.
All I can say is “Wow” … I never thought I’d see the day.

-- Side note: Was I the only one who thought Phil Parsons might start-and-park in the legends race?
-- Kenny Wallace got the Lucky Dog pass five times during the Nationwide race … that's got to be some kind of record.
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a quiet day, but finished 7th and made huge points gains.
-- Starting lineups will now be based on 2010 owners points. The most notable person guaranteed a spot now: Scott Speed, who always was having to race in on Fridays. Also, all 3 Front Row Motorsports cars are barely in. Who’s out?: Most notable are Robby Gordon, the new #26 team, the #36 Tommy Baldwin car, both Prism cars and the #13 car driven by Max Papis.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Is Kevin Harvick a bad person? What about Carl Edwards?

About two years ago, I wrote one of my first-ever posts for this blog, titled: “Carl Edwards: Hero or bully?”

In response to the “fake punch” incident with his teammate Matt Kenseth, I wrote about how Edwards is well-known as a friendly pitchman, yet behind the scenes a lot of drivers, including his own Roush teammates, didn’t trust him and had less than positive things to say about him.

Funny how despite all that changes, things stay the same in NASCAR. Kevin Harvick renewed this discussion of Carl’s character this week, when he called Edwards out as “fake as hell” while appearing on the "Bubba the Love Sponge" radio show. He went on to say: “You can't be the nice guy, you can't be the bad guy and you can’t be the bully. So, I mean, that's just how I feel about that," Harvick said in reference to the multiple personalities of Edwards.

Being called out that way isn’t taken too kindly by most, and Edwards was no exception. He was pretty point blank in his response.

"I have absolutely no respect for (Harvick). I think he's a bad person. That's my opinion. I've told him that. We've had our deal before and his actions through that ... were so devious and underhanded and cowardly that I just have no respect for him,” Edwards blasted away, ensuring he was still the man in the white hat. “When people like that question me, it makes me feel better because if those people were lined up patting me on the back, I'd be on the wrong side of what's right and wrong. And I truly believe that. I am not trying to be a good guy or a bad guy. That's just who I am.”

Then, he called Harvick out as a “little girl”.
“All those people that say whatever they say, know that if I have an issue with them, I go speak to them. I don't go talk behind their back like little girls, that's what a lot of them do. I learned that wasn't cool in about fifth grade."

This is not a new rivalry, just a renewed one. In 2008, Harvick called Edwards a “pansy” for hanging in the back all day, then racing toward the end at Talladega and causing a huge wreck. Then, Carl left a sarcastic note in Kevin’s hauler, and there was the infamous physical confrontation in the garage (It would be pretty fun to see these guys go at it, now that I think about it.)

So the question is: Are either of these guys “bad people”? I’m going to say no. (Neither one is a little girl, either, for the record.)

What they are is a couple of fierce competitors who really don’t like each other, if their comments are any indication.

And that’s good for the sport, because if everyone likes each other it’s a lot less fun.

Richard Petty hated Bobby Allison … and vice versa. The Allisons and Cale Yarborough weren’t exactly eating brunch together. A good rivalry (minus flying cars and extreme retaliation like we saw at Atlanta) is nothing but good for the sport.

So if these guys never make up, it’s fine with me.

Side note

Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards were pretty nice to each other on the track Sunday, wouldn’t you say … I wonder if a 40-minute session with the NASCAR brass had anything to do with that.

Another side note
I have a theory on these rivalries … they run like dominos. First, Hamlin vs. Keselowski. Then, Keselowski vs. Edwards. Now, Edwards vs. Harvick. Then (after Saturday’s Nationwide race), Harvick vs. Logano. … So who’s Joey going to get mad at next week to keep the string alive?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Forget Edwards-Keselowski … new battles will be started at Bristol

I saw some of the best racing I’ve seen in months late Thursday, and I wasn’t even watching a NASCAR race.

I stumbled upon an HBO documentary called “Dirty Driving: Thundercars of Indiana,” a great little movie about a small town hit hard by the economy, but still engaged in the action at the local racetrack. It chronicled the action both on and off the track of the local drivers, who didn’t always see eye to eye.

The racing was fast and furious, with most cars’ fenders either torn up or destroyed by the end of each race featured in the movie. Some of the wrecks were downright scary, and at the root of most of them was one word: Payback.

Sound familiar?

Everyone is wondering whether the bad blood will continue this weekend at Bristol between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski. While they probably aren’t each other’s biggest fans right now, you can bet NASCAR will strike the fear of God into them at their “meeting” (aka the “knock this crap off boys” get-together).

No, you won’t see a #12-#99 collision this weekend at Bristol, as they’ll be on their best behavior around each other.

You will see lots of wrecks and angry tempers, though … because we are in Thunder Valley. While the two men in the spotlight try hard to keep their car in one piece, the next battle will be brewing.

Will Joey Logano and Greg Biffle ramp up their recent battles? Will the Busch brothers have a run-in? Will Jimmie Johnson show some actual emotion and get into an on-track tussle with someone?

No one knows, but it’s not a question of whether drivers will get steamed at each other … it’s a question of who will be involved.

There’s a reason all NASCAR fans love Bristol. It represents the heart of NASCAR, the little bullring track that all these guys came up driving on, like the one at Anderson Speedway in Indiana where a bunch of local boys put all their sweat into their cars and all their emotions into the race every weekend.

This weekend, the millionaire Cup drivers will bring back the spirit of those early days of their careers when they battle at Bristol.

And just like back then, the emotions are sure to fly once again.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How are drivers spending their off weekend?

With no racing to talk about this week in the Big 3 NASCAR series, I thought I’d play Nostradamus and predict what some of the top drivers in NASCAR are doing with their free time this weekend.

Carl Edwards: Endlessly repeating “Boy, that was dumb” while thanking God he didn’t get suspended a race for his Atlanta retaliation.

Jimmie Johnson: Plotting his next step toward world domination

Brad Keselowski: Fulfilling the 100s of interview requests he has received since the Atlanta incident

Denny Hamlin: Wishing he hadn’t been chosen as the favorite to topple Jimmie and take the championship. Performing chants to try to remove the “chosen one” curse.

Paul Menard: Shaving relentlessly so his soul patch doesn’t grow back and ruin his streak of good finishes.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Counting his endless stacks of money and laughing at the people who hate him.

3-D racing?

In other news, 3-D television has come to be a reality, and it got me thinking about how cool it would be to see a race in 3-D, “Avatar” style where it totally surrounds you, in your own living room.

Unfortunately, the 3-D sets are far too expensive for most people to afford, so it’s unlikely this will happen anytime soon, though. When it does though, it’s gonna be pretty cool though.

Twitter ups and downs

As I’ve been getting more into Twitter, I’ve noticed a couple trends.
First, in a really cool move, many drivers are personally interacting with their fans on Twitter, answering questions directly posed to them by the fans on a regular basis. This can only help the sport as people feel more connected to their favorite drivers and want to watch more.

The downside: A little bit of TMI. Without getting too graphic, let’s just say I don’t really need to know about anyone’s bodily functions, even if they are a NASCAR driver.
But as they say, you take the bad with the good.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Role reversal: Incident could make Keselowski a good guy, Edwards a bad guy

It’s amazing how much one incident can change.

Last year, fans everywhere were cursing his name, saying he was a disrespectful young rookie who needed to learn his manners. He was wrecking Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and others far too often, and was just a young punk too big for his britches.

Meanwhile, Carl Edwards was a good guy, “Cousin Carl” the ever friendly pitchman.

The Atlanta incident changed all that.

Now, Brad is the victim. He has gained fans because he was the target of Edwards’ overly aggressive attack at the end of the race, which knocked him out of a top-10 finish and way down to 33rd in the points. He may have been aggressive at times in the past, but he didn’t deserve this kind of retaliation … that is the opinion of the majority of fans I’ve seen responding to the incident.

Meanwhile, “Cousin Carl” is now that bleeping jerk of a cousin you don’t want to hang out with, in the minds of many fans who have rooted for him in the past. He will most definitely lose some fans, and even has been publicly called out by sponsors, the ultimate fear in NASCAR … where money rules all.

I think it would be an amazing thing if by the end of the year, Brad is a fan favorite and Carl has been tabbed as a bad guy. It would be very similar to what happened with Darrell Waltrip, after he was turned around by Rusty Wallace during the 1989 all-star race. He had long been hated by many fans for his big mouth and rough driving, but Rusty’s actions made some of the fans switch over to liking him.

So in the end, while Carl may have been trying to show Brad who to respect, he may have lessened his own level of fan respect, and increased Brad’s level of respect.

I doubt that's what he was hoping to achieve with this move.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

By letting Edwards off, NASCAR has set dangerous precedent

Boy, did NASCAR blow this one.

To put the ridiculous free pass given to Carl Edwards by NASCAR after his reckless actions at Atlanta into perspective, here’s a quick sample of previous fines and penalties that have been levied by NASCAR against drivers.

-- In July of 2001 at Daytona, Tony Stewart had an altercation with NASCAR official Gary Nelson in the garage following a yellow line violation. The result: A $10,000 fine and probation until the end of the season.

-- In August of 2003, Jimmy Spencer punched Kurt Busch in the face at Michigan Speedway after an on-track incident. The result: A $25,000 fine, a one-week suspension and probation until the end of the year.

-- In September of 2005, Robby Gordon at New Hampshire International Speedway tried to hit another competitor's car during a caution period, threw his helmet at a competitor's car and used improper language during a TV interview. The result: Gordon was fined $35,000 and lost 50 championship points.

-- Dale Earnhardt Jr. was famously fined $10,000 and docked 25 points for using a cuss word during a Victory Lane interview in 2004 at Talladega. Jr. earned the same penalties in March 2004 for intentionally causing a caution.

So now it’s 2010. NASCAR wants to let the drivers police themselves, which I agree with to a point, as it relates to letting them race competitively for position and make the races more exciting. (i.e. … none of the babysitting like NASCAR did last year at Talladega with their bump-banning rules that made it essentially a single-file race).

But by giving Carl Edwards NO points penalty, NO monetary fine and NO suspension, and simply putting him on probation for a measly 3 races (which is even less than a slap of the wrist), NASCAR set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the year.

Edwards’ actions went beyond “let them race” … He took a car that was more than 150 laps down, just making laps to earn a couple extra points, and turned it into a weapon. He slammed into Keselowski (a couple times actually, as Brad escaped the first attempt) with no regard for the safety of Brad, the other competitors or the fans in the stands.

I’m all for getting payback if needed (Bristol would have been a nice place to do that), but Edwards’ actions were ridiculous. If Brad has been seriously injured or worse, the police may have gotten involved due to the recklessness of Edwards’ actions.

Mike Helton said that NASCAR is more concerned with the cars getting airborne than what Edwards did, because it’s a much bigger issue.

Wrong. They are both big issues. I agree the car lifting is a huge concern, but I was hoping NASCAR wouldn’t pass down a judgment that basically condoned vigilante tactics that could end up seriously hurting a driver, but that’s exactly what they did.

I’ll all for letting drivers take the gloves off, but I’d rather see them do it on pit road with their fists than on the track with cars traveling nearly 200 mph. (Jimmy Spencer’s punch was widely celebrated, in fact).

It’s insane to condone the kind of action Carl Edwards took, and if someone does end up getting hurt or worse this year, the blood will be on NASCAR’s hand by essentially condoning it with the Edwards ruling.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Carl Edwards' reckless retaliation was just plain stupid

I must be blunt about what happened Sunday.
Carl Edwards screwed himself over pretty good on Sunday.

Let me count off the damage he did by taking his laps-down car and blatantly wrecking front-runner Brad Keselowski and sending him flying onto his roof with just laps to go in the race.
1. He may be suspended by NASCAR for a race (which would make his efforts to make the Chase much more difficult), and will for sure get a massive fine and points penalty
2. He will be eagle-eyed by NASCAR for the rest of the year, as they will watch his every move for overly aggressive action.
3. Perhaps most importantly in the long term, he lost the respect of potentially millions of fans who were watching the Atlanta race on Sunday with his ridiculous and dangerous actions.

He knew better, and the consequences should be harsh.

To sum it up for those who don’t know already, Edwards was wrecked early Sunday in a not-on-purpose incident by Brad Keselowski, and decided to violently retaliate on Brad when they were traveling at 190+ mph with just 5 laps in the race.

Stupid, stupid and stupid are the only ways to describe such an action.
Come on Carl, you’re a smart guy … Save it for Bristol, when people tend to get hit anyway and the speeds are way lower.

But Carl couldn’t do that. He had to get back at Brad right away. I’m guessing that right now, he’s not too happy with his decision.

I recognize that Brad is an aggressive driver, and could probably learn from this incident that it’s probably a good idea to give the other drivers a little more room on occasion, especially early in the race. But even if you’re on the anti-Brad bandwagon, and there is a considerable number of people who are, there’s no justifying what Edwards did on Sunday.

As he’s sitting at home with his wife and baby for the next two weeks (possibly longer if he gets suspended), I hope he realizes that he’s used up any patience NASCAR may have had with him for a long time.

The “let em race” rule was intended to promote healthy competition on the racetrack, not encourage drivers to take a wounded car that’s 150+ laps down back on the track and dangerously wreck a car that’s contending for a top-5 finish.

As Brad accurately said in his interview after the wreck, both he and fans in the grandstands could have been seriously injured in the kind of accident Edwards created. Edwards should know this personally, since his flying car at Talladega actually did injure some fans.

I’m curious what NASCAR will do about this, and I hope the response is not tame.
He should be suspended for a race, though I wouldn’t put money on that happening.

Regardless of the punishment, the only person really hurt by Carl Edwards’ actions on Sunday was Carl Edwards.

New faces in the Chase?
Paul Menard AND Scott Speed are sitting in Chase territory in the points … that’s not a typo.

Both drivers have been less than strong finishers in the past, to be kind. Speed has a horrible rookie season where he caused a ton of cautions and didn’t do much else. Menard, likewise, has been a backmarker who was only mentioned on TV when he was being lapped.

At this point in 2010, it appears that their storylines are changing. Speed is outperforming his teammate Brian Vickers, who made the Chase in 2009. And Menard is leading the way for the Richard Petty Motorsports, doing even better than superstar teammate Kasey Kahne.

I say good luck to them … it’s always nice to see a few fresh faces in the top-10 each week. If they stick around up front all year, and that’s a big if, the question becomes: Who will falter and be running laps down in their place?

Fewer start-and-parkers
After some warnings from NASCAR in recent weeks about the practice of “starting and parking,” it appears the practice is close to being extinct. A quick glance at the results of the Atlanta race reveals that the only team to do it this week was the two-car squad of Prism Motorsports – with drivers Dave Blaney and Michael McDowell.

A former start-and-park team, Tommy Baldwin Racing, had a solid 24th-place run by Mike Bliss on Sunday. Also, the new #26 team with driver Boris Said is not start-and-parking either, at least so far.

It’s a good sign that the practice is becoming less common in Cup. I don’t mind it as much in Nationwide, but it shouldn’t be happening at the top level of the sport.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It’s go time for Dale Jr.

Finally, some good news in Jr. land.

After a bit of doom and gloom to start his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports, we are seeing the true potential of the #88 team.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Atlanta, his first in a long, long time.

He is fast in practice.

Now comes the key part … win the race.

It’s not that simple, as there are 42 other guys, including Jimmie Johnson, who are standing in his way. But this weekend looks like the best in a long time that Jr. has had to win a race. He has always run good at this track, and now he’s in the kind of equipment that should allow him to run up front all day.

It’s important to keep things in perspective, though. It is only one race after all, even if he does win.
But the moral boost from winning a race could be huge for this team and put Jr. back on a track to where he can compete with his Hendrick teammates.

Confidence goes a long way in this sport … it’s not all car.

So the fans will go crazy at the drop of the checkered flag, and be hopeful their hero Dale Jr. can come through on Sunday. If he does, expect media coverage on a Danica level. If he doesn’t, expect the criticism to keep on coming about why he can’t win.

Such is life when your name is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Wendell Scott’s bravery in the face of racism can’t be forgotten

When we talk about NASCAR’s past, a lot of names come up very often … Petty, Allison, Earnhardt, etc.

These are the men who waged the battles on the track that have become legendary.

But there is another man who waged a much more important battle who is not mentioned as often. He is Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver to be a success in NASCAR, in the face of blatant racism.

This week, Scott’s memory is being honored at Atlanta, with all vehicles in the Cup and Truck series races featuring a commemorative decal with the image of Wendell Scott, who died in 1991.

It’s hard for us in this modern day, where racism is still present but shunned by most, to really understand how hard it was for Wendell Scott when he started racing. He began his racing career in 1947, before segregation had ended and the civil rights movement was just in the minds of African-Americans. He had to compete head-to-head with white competitors who often took their aggression out on him on the track because of the color of his skin.

Many a time, his race cars were torn up by competitors in NASCAR and lower series just because he was black (In a recent show I watched on him, Scott’s family indicated that big name drivers like Bobby Allison and Richard Petty may have been guilty of this at times.) He had some allies in the garage, but they were not a large number.

Somehow, despite all this, he won hundreds of race in his career at various levels of racing … including a Cup race.

His mere presence in the garage angered many of his competitors and many NASCAR fans during a highly charged time in history, when black people in America were finally starting to get their equal rights.

When he took his only victory at NASCAR’s top level in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1963, the track was so afraid of what would happen that they didn’t even announce Scott as the winner. Buck Baker was initially named the winner, then the victory was given to him after the fact. Among the concerns … the white trophy girl in Victory Lane, who usually gave the winner a kiss. Imagine that happening back in those days … he would have been lucky to get out of there alive.

Nowadays, thankfully, things have changed. While there are rare exceptions (Brendan Gaughan’s crew chief allegedly used a racial slur on Marc Davis last year), that kind of primitive attitude is shunned in modern day NASCAR. If it rears its ugly head, the people involved are quickly punished (for example, Bob Griese’s suspension for saying Juan Pablo Montoya was out “eating a taco”.)

Wendell Scott’s daughter Sybil Scott said she hopes her father's legacy is creating opportunities for future minority drivers. "Daddy's legacy is through the diversity program," Sybil Scott said. "The doors are open pretty wide right now, I feel very strongly. "I can only look at these drivers and think of how my dad would be their greatest fan. He would be out there encouraging them and would want others to be supportive. That's how to keep Daddy's legacy alive."

It’s yet to happen, but eventually another African-American driver will break through and match the success that Wendell Scott had decades ago. And their road to success will have been much smoother thanks to the bravery and dedication of Wendell Scott decades earlier.

He may not be the biggest name in NASCAR’s history, but he fought a battle more difficult than anything his competitors had to face.