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, October 31, 2010

Bowyer wins thrilling Talladega race; or was it a boring race?

Can a race with 80+ lead changes be boring?

That’s the question I was asking myself after watching a Talladega race that was hyped as a spooktacular Halloween event, but left me underwhelmed most of the time, despite a neverending stream of lead changes up front.

Before we get into the specifics of Sunday’s race, I have to say that Talladega is a strange place to begin with.

For starters, you never know what’s going to happen, which is why it’s called the wild card in the Chase so often. It offers people a chance to win who might not usually contend (think Brad Keselowski in the #09 car, for example). And of course, there is the Big One, which can change the entire complexion of the race at any time.

More than any other track, there is a huge risk of getting in a wreck not of your fault at Talladega. Because of these factors, this is a race that’s among the most anticipated of the year, especially since it plays such a key role in determining the champion.

On Sunday at Talladega, we didn’t see a 20-car pileup, which is a very good thing. I do not get enjoyment on Sundays by watching racecars turn into balls of tangled sheet metal. There may be fans who like that, but I just want to see good racing.

And to be fair, I did see some good racing on Sunday. Early in the race, there was great battling up front for the lead. Joe Nemechek even led a lap, which made me think it was 1999 for a second.

But my problem with Sunday was that so many of the lead changes and the racing up front seemed fake. Two guys would get up front and play around, letting each other pass back and forth and testing their cars to see what they could do at the end of the race. In my mind, the majority of the race turned into more of an extended test session than an actual race.

Talladega has evolved into a race where the drivers only care about the last 20 laps … which begs the question, what’s the point of watching the rest of the race? I know it’s an awesome site to see the cars racing four and five wide all day, but the novelty wears off eventually. Especially this race, I kept getting the impression that it all didn’t mean very much. I didn’t really care who was leading all day, because I knew none of the drivers really cared at that point and were just thinking about the end of the race.

What annoyed me most was that we didn’t get to see a race to the checkered flag. That’s the highlight of every restrictor plate race, and if you watched Saturday’s Truck series race, you saw a dandy.

Three trucks crossed the start-finish line in record proximity to each other, with Kyle Busch nipping out a win over Aric Almirola by just .002 seconds. That’s 2 thousands of one second, an impossibly close margin, and there was added controversy because an out-of-control Busch went below the yellow line before crossing the start-finish line. (Funny how that kind of move cost Regan Smith a win, but it’s not taken from Kyle. I know the situations weren’t exactly the same, but there’s a hint of favoritism to the stars in my view.)

This kind of great finish is what I wanted to see in the Cup race, and it might have happened if the race didn’t end when the caution flag flew for a scary incident involving A.J. Allmendinger. Instead, we had to look at a replay to see who was the victory – Clint Bowyer or Kevin Harvick.

I would be hard-pressed to come up with a more boring ending to a race, but that’s how the rules work.

So, getting to the answer to my question, I suppose it is possible for a race with 80+ lead changes to be boring, as least partially, when you realize that many of those lead changes are basically fake. And as a fan of racing, I have a fundamental concern with a race where half the drivers purposely drop to the back for most of the race and don’t try to race to the front. It seems to go against the very nature of racing.

Is there a solution to the Talladega race that will make the drivers more concerned about racing all the way through it, and not just at the end?

There is one: Take off the restrictor plates (and find another way to keep the speeds in check) so there’s no quick route to the front at the end and they have to race all day. But that’s about as likely as Kyle Busch winning a personality contest.

Points leaders dodge a bullet
So the wild card race is done, and all the top 3 drivers in the Chase are still alive, since all 3 avoided trouble at Dega.

Jimmie Johnson has the ball in his court as he goes for five straight titles, and he’ll need to stumble to lose that fifth title. But he’s not far ahead of the determined Denny Hamlin, who has tunnel-vision focus on bumping Jimmie from that throne.

These two were considered title favorites all year, so the only other contender, Kevin Harvick, has to be considered the dark horse for the title. Despite him leading the points for much of the regular season, lots of pundits believed he would fall off in the Chase; but that didn’t happen, and Harvick is determined to prove his doubters wrong.

As far as the other Chasers go, they’re battling for fourth and lower, as they are all more than 200 points out of first.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Did Kurt Busch go too far?; Miracle day for Mark Martin; No teammates in Chase

Many people will say Kurt Busch went too far when he punted Jeff Gordon after some close contact Sunday during the Martinsville, but I'm going to chalk it up to it being that kind of day.

Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick were at each other's doorsides once again, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson got a little snippy, Kyle Busch called Jimmie a synonym for a female dog and some other not-so-kind words, almost everybody got sideways at some point, and the only person smiling at the end of the day was winner Denny Hamlin, who dropped Jimmie's points lead down to just 6 points after coming back from a rough start.

It was a perfect combination that led to one of the more enjoyable, though often interrupted, races of the season. Short track racing is always bumper to bumper, and when you add in a close Chase it's bound to be a wreckfest. Tempers flared, and no one seemed to care if the people they were racing hard were their teammates or not.

The incident that many will say was most avoidable is the Kurt Busch dumping of Gordon, but I say that's just a consequence of Gordon making a bad decision. I heard a lot of talk from the broadcasters that "the punishment doesn't fit the crime" in instances like this, but I don't subscribe to that theory.

Jeff Gordon knew that Kurt Busch wasn't going to take it well when he got nudged out of the way. He chose to do it anyway, and you saw what happened. In the process, he greatly crippled his chance to compete for the championship.

Just like everything in life, you have to decide when to take a risk, knowing what might happen as a result of your actions. So while some are feeling sorry for Jeff Gordon, I say he made his own luck.

Martin's miracle day
If you were watching the first half of the Martinsville race, you would have thought Mark Martin was a moving target. Everywhere he went, people seemed to get into him, and eventually he spun around and had what looked like a ragdoll of a racecar.

But somehow, he came back from 2 laps down and finished 2nd, his best run of the year.

Martin said that early in the race, he didn't even think he could finish.
"Yeah, lap 30 I started overheating my brakes, started having to baby them. I thought there was no possible way we were going to run 500 laps. At lap 150, 175, I thought, Oh, my goodness, it's going to be a long, long day."

After his car was finally adjusted to the point where it ran well, he smoked his way through the field and had a car capable of winning. Martin said he enjoyed running everyone down as the race winded down.

"That last hundred laps was fun. I've had guys pass me and I wondered how in the world they did that. Now I see how. What an incredible racecar that Alan Gustafson and everyone gave me."

Martin said he's glad the team finally was able to have a good run after a tough year left them out of the Chase.

"I really want to thank my teammates and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for supporting us through a really tough summer. We've turned it around with some good runs. Hopefully we can continue to do that. "

It just goes to show that it's not about how pretty the car looks, it's about what's under the motor.

Was that Jr. leading?
Something strange happened Sunday at Martinsville. Dale Earnhardt Jr's crew made some smart decisions that got him up front and led to him leading some laps, before he eventually ended up 7th. Too bad he didn't do that all season. It doesn't really mean much now.

Still, the fans got a rise out of it, and there's some proof, however small, that he and crew chief Lance McGrew are finally connecting and capable of competing. He just needs to back it up in the final few races, and he's pretty good in restrictor plate races so next week at Talladega would be a great time to pick up a win.

Good start for Kahne
Kasey Kahne had a decent run in his first time out for the Red Bull team, finishing 14th. For a car that hasn't done much this year with a variety of drivers, that's a positive first step toward being successful next season.

Meanwhile, his former team ... the perhaps soon-to-be-extinct Richard Petty Motorsports, had a decent run most of the day from Kahne's replacement Aric Almirola, but he ended up 21st. Teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Paul Menard, managed to survive the wreckage and finish 12th and 13th, while Elliott Sadler did his usual 28th place run. He is probably just as eager to leave RPM as Kahne was, considering how badly his tenure there has gone.

Points implications
After last week, everyone said it was a three-man race, and I thought that was a bit premature. After this week, it really is. Hamlin is right on Johnson's bumper in the points, and Harvick is within throwing distance, but the rest of the field needs the top 3 to wreck out at Talladega to really have a legitimate shot.

The upside for them?: It's Talladega, so that could actually happen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A new chapter for Kasey Kahne, and is this the end of Richard Petty Motorsports?

Kasey Kahne is free.

As I predicted earlier this week, his relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports came to an end after his decision not to get back in the car last weekend. They made the announcement without even telling Kahne.

And he’s probably cool with that, because he didn’t want to be there anyway. You could tell that was the case from the moment he announced in the middle of the 2010 season that he was going to Hendrick Motorsports … in 2012.

Now he can get a new start at Red Bull Racing … a 5-race warmup for his 2011 ride, which he will drive before moving to the #5 Hendrick ride. It’s likely Red Bull will switch to Chevy next year, as I distinctly remember Rick Hendrick saying they’d find him a ride in a Chevy somewhere in 2011.

Meanwhile, RPM is in shambles, and I really feel bad for A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, two solid drivers who might be out of luck if RPM goes belly up. They both have expressed concerns about their 2011 situation, but are still hoping for the best … and I wish them luck considering the happenings of this week.

The team briefly had some cars repossessed this week due to nonpayment, and the team apparently owes people a lot of money. At this point the team “thinks” it will finish out the year.

Quite frankly, this sounds like a very desperate time for the team, which will probably be very downsized if it survives at all. Richard Petty (just a figurehead despite the name of the team), Ray Evernham and anyone else with ties to the team is probably hoping to distance themselves as soon as possible.

So the Kahne incident was just one more example of what happens when a team isn’t run properly. The cars aren’t as good, so you get angry drivers, which lead to the incidents like we saw last week.

To see a team go from four cars to extinction within one year is unheard of, but it could happen here. Don’t worry about the Petty name being tarnished … that team went downhill long before they merged with the Gillett team.

And if I were A.J. or Marcos, I might check if any other options were open, just in case.

Speed out of a ride
Meanwhile, in a related matter, Red Bull’s team is full of news this week. In addition to Kasey’s arrival to drive the #83, it was announced that Scott Speed won’t be back with the team in 2011, when the team will consist of Kahne in the #82 (which may switch to #4), and Brian Vickers returning in the #83.

Where will Speed go? Based on his record, which has glimpses of hope but not much success at the Cup level, I don’t think you’ll see him in any top ride. He could probably land somewhere, but if he can’t compete I suppose going back to open wheel racing is an option (but even that’s doubtful, as his Formula 1 tenure was pretty lackluster, too.)

I like Scott Speed, but I have to be honest: His future is quite murky right now.

Who’s the restart king?
Earlier this year, Kyle Busch made a remark that he should be called the Restart King, not Ron Hornaday … At Martinsville, Hornaday let his actions speak by beating Kyle on several restarts and taking the win in Saturday’s truck series race.

I’m guessing Kyle didn’t repeat his bid to transfer the Restart King title after that finish.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

After Charlotte incident, Kahne and RPM might as well split right now

It's no surprise that things are a bit rough between Richard Petty Motorsports and Kasey Kahne right now.

He's not running well, his cars fail on him regularly, and he already has his mind on next year at Red Bull as a warmup to his move to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
But things hit a new low at Charlotte, when after his brakes failed he decided not to get back in the car and complete the race.

In reports that came out Sunday, Kahne admitted to having a meltdown on the radio, and to being upset with the quality of the cars given to him.

"I lost it. I was just mad. I came into the race thinking we had a shot to win, thinking we had a good car in practice, we had a good shot," he said. "It went green. We were a little bit tight, but still actually passed cars and really felt good, and then boom, my brakes are gone. It's not like you have half-brakes, like you can pump them. Your foot goes to the floor. It bottoms out. It's a joke."

Kahne said in the reports that he threw up once Saturday night and didn't want to get back in a car that didn't meet his standards. Kahne said it was the third time this season his brakes had failed, and the second time in three races.

This is a pretty bold move, to blatantly admit you don't want to drive for your current team because you think their equipment sucks. I can't really fault his logic in a way. What's the worst they could do to him: Fire him?

J.J. Yeley completed the race in Kahne's car, and then on Sunday morning Kahne ran a 5k event for his charity in downtown Charlotte. Most sick people i know wouldn't run a 5k.

If there's one thing I know about racecar drivers, it's that they love to race, and they want to finish a race no matter what it takes. Dale Earnhardt Sr. once got out of the ambulance after a wreck, jumped back in his car and finished a race.

Kasey Kahne is a great racecar driver, and no doubt he feels the same way about finishing ... he just doesnt' want to do it with his current team.
There's still a handful of races left in the year, and Kahne will (probably) be in all of them physically, but not mentally.

After Saturday night, there will be some very tense atmosphere in that garage, as they wait for him to exit. I'm guessing there won't be a going away party for Kahne, since he's already mentally checked out. Based on earlier incidents with his fellow drivers at RPM (notably his spat with A.J. Allmendinger), I don't think he ever really fit there in the first place.

In a way I don't blame him, as he's headed for much greener pastures (though it's no guarantee; see Dale Jr.) and the current equipment isn't exactly top-notch. But since he's made it clear how unhappy he is with his team, there's a good argument to be made that he shouldn't even finish the year in the #9 car.

I know he'd be happy with that, and the team could probably do without his attitude toward them. It's possible contacts will stop that from happening, but it's probably the best option at this point.

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8 years later, Jamie McMurray finally has become a contender

Eight years ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jamie McMurray ran the second race of his Winston Cup career. Filling in for an injured Sterling Marlin and driving the #40 Coors Light car, he ended up in Victory Lane.

Since then, the road has been bumpy for McMurray. Other than that win, his first stint at Ganassi’s team didn’t work out so well. So he headed for greener pastures at Roush Racing, or so he thought. He never really took off there, and in four years he only won a couple races before being forced out due to NASCAR’s new four-team rule.

So here he is in 2001 … back home at Ganassi: And my oh my, things have changed.

It’s not all roses, as he did miss the Chase, but let’s look at the highlights.
-- He won the Daytona 500
-- He won the Brickyard 400
-- These big paydays, and other solid runs, make him one of the highest-earning drivers in NASCAR in 2010.
-- On Saturday night at Charlotte, he outran great drivers like Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson en route to his second career Charlotte win.

Between all that, and the regular grin on his face, I’m thinking he’s glad he came back to his former team for the 2010 season.
This time at Charlotte, under much different circumstances, Jamie got to celebrate properly.

“When I won here in 2002, you're in a situation where I don't know that there's any race car driver wants someone else to get in their car and win, much less a kid that's never won. So I knew that that was hard on Sterling. I knew that, as soon as I get in victory lane, I remember telling myself you need to be very gracious and be respectful to Sterling.”

This time, the team is all his, and he couldn’t say enough about how stellar their 2010 performance has been.

“Tonight is completely different, because you know … I feel this is my team and it's a team that has been put together over the past 11 months, 12 months, and it's mine. And it's a completely different feeling.”

As I said before, it hasn’t been an easy road for McMurray, who only now – 8 years into his career – is started to act like anything close to a contender. With those struggles in mind, after the race McMurray gave credit to his faith and prayers, which he credits in part for his resurgence.

“I just wanted it to be understood that after the season that I had, or the last four years I had, I found the power of prayer and that it's something that I really believe in. And when I got to victory lane in Daytona that's what I was thinking about. You know, I was crying, obviously because I was happy, but also because you feel like a prayer has been answered,” McMurray said Saturday night.
“And so that is, as a very powerful thing, and it's obviously very emotional. Tthat's a very selfish thing to ask for. Certainly it's not the first thing that I pray about every day. But everyone wants to be successful and you want to do well in life, so when you feel like that's been answered, it's emotional.

He said faith was on this mind as the race drew to a close.
“I thought about it the last eight or ten laps. I was like, you know, if I win this race, Lord, if you don't throw a caution, is what I said, and I win this race, I'm going to explain to people my feelings and why I felt that way,” McMurray said.

“I think that's important. I watch other professional athletes, whether it's bull riders or basketball players or motorcycle riders, you hear them get out and you hear them thank God and talk about the power of prayer, and I just think that that's important for people to understand, and understand why my feelings were the way they were.”

Beyond his racing career, McMurray said he has grown up a lot personally over the past 8 years.

“I'm married and expecting a child. My life has changed a lot,” he said. “I feel like I'm a lot smarter of a racer and I try to put myself in a better position probably than what I did back then. That’s a tough question to answer, because you know, you don't realize, you know, how much you don't know, and eight or ten years goes by and you realize what you didn't know then and how much more you know now and how much more you're going to know in ten years from now. I think probably more than anything I'm appreciative of the sponsors and of the opportunities that I have right now versus 2002.”

If McMurray had made the Chase, he would be 155 points out of the lead. If anyone had told me he would run this good his first year back with Ganassi, I would have called them crazy. But Jamie is getting it done, and if he keeps it up next year there’s a good chance he will be in the Chase.

Speaking of next year, the contract for an extension for McMurray is being finalized (and is pretty much a guarantee to happen), but Jamie had no official announcement on Saturday.

“We are really close on that. It's not that I don't want to talk about it. It's just there's really not anything to discuss right now, and hopefully it will all be done soon. And when that is, we can kind of talk about it then,” McMurray said. “I'm not trying to be a butt hole, I just don't really have anything to say about it.”

In closing, I’ll say McMurray has no worries about people calling him that. Instead, they are finally calling him a contender. It only took eight years, but it’s something no one can deny at this point.

Jimmie bounces back … again
Many fans were probably happy when they saw Jimmie Johnson spinning, and they thought he was going to lose the points lead.

Those of us who have watched Jimmie Johnson over the years knew that wasn’t going to happen. As he always does when bad luck strikes, Johnson methodically worked his way through the field, and ended up leading laps, finishing 3rd and retaining his points lead. … And I expected nothing less.

Barring a wreck at Talladega it’s going to take a miracle for this guy to have a bad finish and give up that points lead, despite the hopes of all the fans who are tired of the same guy winning the Cup every year.
After the race, Johnson said his team has come to realize that they will always have a shot at a good finish, even if things start out bad, due to their high level of confidence.

“In years past, there has been segments of a season where, yeah, I've had that confidence,” Johnson said. “Coming into the Chase, I didn't have that confidence. I didn't think we were in that position, and maybe that's what everyone was kind of noticing and thought we were vulnerable because of that. I know we are capable of it, and I think tonight we proved to ourselves more than anything that we can come back and fight through issues and still get a good finish.”

That’s good news for Jimmie, and bad news for everyone else. More bad news for them: The next race is at Martinsville, where Jimmie has amassed a healthy collection of grandfather clocks throughout his years in the Cup series.

Kyle Busch frustrated with 2nd
Kyle Busch finished 2nd, but you’d think he was 30th based on his post-race interview. Busch was disappointed that McMurray was able to pull off the win, and unhappy that he couldn’t take the win

"He (Jamie McMurray) was faster than me and he beat us. Nothing to it but that. Just didn't quite have it at the end. I gave it
up two nights in a row. … It's real, real frustrating to not come out of here with a win at a track that I have yet to win at and have
been so fast at. I'm sorry to all the guys, I mean everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing, everybody in the engine shop, chassis shop - it's my job to come out here and get a win for these guys."

He went on to say that he should have communicated better with the team.
"It's very tough and it's very, very frustrating and disappointing. I gave it all I had, but (Jamie) McMurray was just better than
me and I'm sorry to all my guys. I didn't give up any, but we just didn't have the right changes. Apparently I didn't
communicate enough right or something."

Don’t get down on yourself Kyle, there is the possibility the other team was just better.

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Brad Keselowski shines again at Charlotte

Anyone who watched Friday night’s Nationwide race saw Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski put on a hell of a show. On the last caution, he stayed out when everyone else pitted, yet somehow managed to stay ahead of 2nd place Martin Truex Jr., despite having older tires and facing several restarts.

It wasn’t easy, as Truex appeared to have him cleared several times. But Brad would always come roaring around the outside lane and maintain his lead. This lasted more than 30 laps, and was a thrill to watch. Truex was dumbfounded that he couldn’t make the pass, but in fact it was Brad’s reputation as an aggressive driver that probably helped him win.

At one point during the battle, Truex said on the radio that if he made the move too soon, without being 100 percent clear, there was a good chance Brad would dump him. So he played it safe and came in second.
I have a feeling some other drivers (Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin) might not have been so cautious, and they might have been the ones doing a dumping of Brad.

Brad was excited about his performance, and the race in general.
“I’m so mentally exhausted after this race,” he said. “I might be biased, but this was the best race that I’ve seen in my life. That was awesome! I have to give the credit to Paul (Wolfe), that guy is amazing. This Dodge Challenger flew! I’m so proud of Dodge. Everyone at Penske Racing that put this car together…it’s just really an honor to driver these cars. I’m proud of everyone on this team.”

The main thing I take from this: By winning despite the tire deficiency, Brad showed he is a truly talented driver who can win despite having the seemingly inferior car due to older tires -- at least in the Nationwide series. Hopefully that drive to win will soon translate to better finishes in the Cup series, as it will be a lot of fun to see him battle the stars of the A series like he battles the stars of the B series.

Chevy contest
NASCAR fans can enter the “Team Chevy Celebrate Like a Champion” contest.
The grand prize is 2 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ vehicles, a trip for 4 to Las Vegas, and a chance to meet driver Kevin Harvick.

The contest is in honor of Chevrolet recently clinching its 34th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturers’ Cup.

Race fans can enter for a chance to win at through November 15. In addition to the prized already mentioned, the winner will get four tickets to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony and $2,000 spending cash. No purchase is necessary. See rules at

ESPN documentary on Tim Richmond airs Tuesday

If you know who Tim Richmond is, and especially if you don’t, you should watch the latest installment of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series at 8 p.m. Tuesday night, October 19.
Richmond, often overlooked when the history of NASCAR is told, is one of the all-time greats and could have been a superstar if AIDS hadn’t taken his life in the 1980s.

He was a truly unique Hollywood-type figure who ruffled a lot of Southern-types’ feathers off track during his time in the sport, and also had some great battles with Dale Earnhardt on the track.

I can’t wait to see this latest take on his life, even though I already know the details – both happy and sad. Based on previous entries in the “30 for 30” series, it should be impressive.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore are surprise Hall of Fame inductees

It was Hall of Fame day No. 2 for NASCAR, and it came with a few surprises.
Some people who may have expected to be chosen for induction -- including Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough -- went home empty-handed.

Meanwhile, a couple surprises were handed out with the choosing of "Gentleman" Ned Jarrett and longtime car owner Bud Moore. Other than David Pearson, there were no clear favorites, so there was bound to be a surprise or two.

Results were:
-- David Pearson - 94% (the 6 percent who didn't vote for him are crazy, by the way)
-- Bobby Allison - 62%
-- Lee Petty - 62%
-- Ned Jarrett - 58%
-- Bud Moore - 45%

Pearson is my pick for the best driver in NASCAR history, and I still maintain that he would have won more races than Richard Petty if Pearson had dedicated himself more fully to the sport and run more full seasons. With three titles and 105 wins, the Silver Fox should have been in on the first ballot. While it is a year late, I'm glad to see him finally being recognized. He tried to win the title three tiems, and did it every time. If he had tried every year, there's no telling what he could have done.

Allison, the 1983 champ, was one of Richard Petty's fiercest rivals, at a time in the past when drivers really hated each other. Curiously, he got in with 84 wins while Darrell Waltrip did not.

Jarrett was a lock to make it eventually, but getting in with the second class has to be considered a surprise. His name isn't as big as some of the other contenders, despite being a two-time champ and a 50-time winner, but he earned the recognition anyway and must be thrilled. His experience as a great broadcaster in the sport probably helped him.

Lee Petty was the first driver to win three titles, and began the legacy that continued with RIchard, Kyle and Adam Petty. He has 54 wins, 9th all time, and created one of the most enduring teams in NASCAR history -- Petty Enterprises. When you think NASCAR, you think Petty ... and Mr. Lee Petty is the original. Amazingly, he never finished lower than fourth in points from 1949-1959.

Longtime car owner Bud Moore was the biggest surprise. While people in the sport know him and he has won a ton of races as crew chief and car owner, he isn't a big name. But with so many NASCAR insiders voting, there was bound to be one surprise that the general population might not know so much about. Moore won back-to-back titles in 1962-63 as a car owner with Joe Weatherly driving. He also was a champion in 1957 as crew chief for driver Buck Baker.

Looking ahead, Yarborough and Waltrip are locks to be chosen next year, along with longtime Richard Petty crew chief Dale Inman, who also got votes. There are two more spots open, and while it's wide open I hope they go to Glen Wood of the Wood Brothers, and legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick (if NASCAR decides to nominate him next time).

Most disappointed today was probably Darrell Waltrip, who was apparently openly campaigning for votes. I'd be curious to hear the explanation from voters why people chose Allison over Waltrip ... could it be they don't like his personality as a broadcaster?.

The class was determined by 53 votes cast by the panel, plus the nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.COM. Among the hundreds of thousands of fan votes, the top five was: Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Lee Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough ... with 3 of those making it, and Waltrip and Cale not making the final cut.

The Class of 2011 will be officially inducted in a ceremony in May 2011 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cars or drivers? ... Why do Chevys win so many titles?

1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

What do these years have in common? These years, 18 out of the past 26, a Chevrolet has been the vehicle driven by the Cup champion. The other 9 have been split between Ford and Pontiac, and with Pontiac taking 3, that means a GM product has been the champ 21 of those 26 years.

This brings up a key question: Why is this so?

Ford has been competing during this entire stretch and only claimed five titles, despite having some very talented drivers along the way. Are the Chevys more reliable, or do they just have the best drivers inside of them.

As I see it, the answer is probably a little bit of both. As evidenced by this weekend's Roush blowup parade, and the rare occurrence of a Hendrick or RCR car blowing up, it seems that currently the Chevys are more reliable.

But you can't ignore the driver element. As they say, success breeds success. and if you've won titles in the past, the top drivers will be drawn to your brand. Talented drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson know that a brand that has won so many titles is probably a good place to plant yourself. Jeff Gordon, in fact, started out as a Ford driver in the Busch Series, and was lured by Rick Hendrick over to Chevy.

If he had been driving Fords since November of 1992, would he have four titles and be battling for a fifth? We'll never know, but it's fair to say that it's less likely.

I'm not trying to knock Ford, Toyota and Dodge, but for whatever reason the Bowtie Brigade tends to rise to the top. Some people will claim a conspiracy theory and say that NASCAR wants Chevy to win, but I don't fall in that category.

I think it's pretty simple. They've won in the past, make good cars and attract good drivers. The other car makes need to find a way to get more reliable and be more competitive for the title.

Old faces return
You can't keep Ken Schrader down. Away from the Cup series for a while, Ken Schrader -- who has raced everything on wheels for the past several decades -- will attempt to qualify for the Cup races at Martinsville and Talledega in the #26 Ford. He will also race at Talledega in Kevin Harvick's #2 truck.

Also, there are reports that SPEED reporter and former driver Hermie Sadler may run the Cup race at Martinsville in the #71 Chevy.

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Kevin Harvick's public criticism of his crew was over the line

I understand that Kevin Harvick wants to win every race he runs, and I recognize that his pit crew performed badly and screwed up his chances of winning Saturday at California in the Nationwide race.

I also recognize that he is the owner of Kevin Harvick Inc. and has the right to hire and fire anyone that he wants, and has the right to be supremely ticked off when his employees don't do their jobs to the standards he has set.

Despite all that, I still think that Harvick's public insulting of his crew -- both during the race on his radio, and after the race on television -- was a step over the line and should have been done behind closed doors. Anyone who watched the race knows they performed badly, there's no need to insult them further in a public manner.

Harvick's not the first person to be this openly critical of his crew -- Kyle Busch did it in the recent past -- but I do not see the benefit of humiliating your own team in front of a national audience.

I'm sure they already knew, as soon as the pit stops ended, that they were in big trouble and might get a few not-so-kind words from the sarcastically nicknamed "Happy" Harvick. And based on their performance, which ruined the day for Harvick, they deserved criticism.

But there is a time and place for everything, and Harvick's actions were over the top and not the best strategy for motivating the team. Imagine if your boss at the office or construction site walked over and started screaming at you in the middle of the workday -- not exactly the best work environment, right?

Instead of yelling at his crew members, he would have been smarter to call an intense, behind doors meeting where the issues were discussed and plans were made to make sure the kind of mistakes that happened Saturday do not happen again.

By doing what he did and insulting them publicly, he just made himself look like a jerk and a bad boss.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Roush reliability issues ruin any realistic shot at Chase title

There's a couple reasons everybody usually looks to Hendrick Motorsports when picking championship favorites.

First, they (especially Jimmie Johnson) tend not to screw up in the Chase.

And second, the other teams do tend to screw up in the Chase.

This week, it was the Roush Fenway team's turn to self-destruct. Things were looking good early, with Matt Kenseth running up front and leading, but then all hell broke loose.

First Greg Biffle blew up, ending any realistic shot at the title for him. Then Carl Edwards had mechanical issues, putting him far enough back that he's probably a longshot.

At the end of the race, even Kenseth, who had run up front all day, was spitting out smoke and finished 30th.

On top of all that, non-Chase driver David Ragan drove straight into a wrecking Kurt Busch and crumpled up his car. In short, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Roush team.

It's all about reliability, and that's not something the Roush team can claim its had this year. They started poorly, picked things up in mid-season, but have never been truly consistent other than one recent string of good runs by Carl Edwards.
That's just not going to be enough to win a title.

When you look at what happened Sunday, and you'll see why Roush Racing hasn't won a title since Kurt Busch won the inaugural Chase (and that one came in miraculous fashion, with Kurt losing a tire at the perfect time ... right in front of pit road, to save his day.

Here's a quick game for you: Think back to the last time Hendrick Motorsports had several of its cars' engines fail in one race.

Still thinking?

I'm sure it has happened, and I vaguely remember it a time or two, but it's so rare that I can't even remember when it happened.

Reliability in the Chase is the key to having any shot at a title. It's clear there is not enough reliability at Roush Fenway, and with Kyle Busch's woes the Joe Gibbs team has some issues too.

And as the others fall off, a couple of four-time champs at Hendrick Motorsports will continue to have reliable cars and battle each other for the title.

Stewart staying alive
After a rough start to the Chase, highlighted by his running out gas at New Hampshire and tumbling in the points, Tony Stewart is alive again.

After beating Jimmie Johnson to take the checkered flag in a place where the #48 has basically owned Victory Lane in the recent past, Stewart is in 5th place and still withing striking distance of the points lead ... he just can't screw up anymore. All his opportunity for error is gone.

Stewart is the only driver to win a title both in the Chase era and before the Chase era, and that's due to his standing as one of the most talented drivers in the field. If he gets on a roll, the competition better watch out.

Finally, a great Fontana race
After so many stinkers in the past, the race Sunday at Fontana was a great one, featuring 4-wide Daytona style action and some great door-to-door racing, even between teammates. Kevin Harvick at one point got annoyed with his Jeff Burton, and Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon had some pretty intense battles.

It's too bad there weren't more races like this in the past, or the track might have kept its second date. The drop from 500 to 400 miles should have happened a long time ago.

An animated take on NASCAR
Comedy Central's "South Park" took a shot at NASCAR this week with its "Poor and Stupid" episode, and while it wasn't the funniest episode of the show that I've seen, it had some good moments. There was Cartman calling Jimmie Johnson "dumber than spit", cartoon Danica getting run over, a car sponsored by feminine hygiene products and other hijinks. Check it out if you get a chance, but be aware it isn't exactly a family show.

For another take on the episode, and the reaction from drivers to it, check out

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Strong California run shows there’s hope for Danica Patrick after all

Most Nationwide drivers wouldn’t be too happy after running in the teens all day and finishing 30th due to being shoved into the wall in a wreck not of your own making.

But for Danica Patrick, that was actually a pretty good day … and I mean that in a positive way.

You see, a couple months ago, I watch Danica race at Michigan International Speedway. As soon as the race started, she fell back so fast you would think she was standing still. She had a horrible day, impressing nobody and making many think she couldn’t handle a NASCAR ride. Earlier this year, she was saying things on her radio that made her look like a complete amateur, and was appropriately called out for not doing her homework before jumping in a NASCAR ride.

Something must have happened between then and now, because until she was dumped by James Buescher for no apparent reason, Danica was running on the lead lap most of the day and actually passing some people … as opposed to being passed by backmarkers in no-budget cars like she had been doing for most of her abbreviated NASCAR season.

There’s no need to get too excited just yet, as this was just one race and no one’s going to pick her to run up front next week with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski any time soon

But I have to admit that seeing Danica, brand new to NASCAR, hold her ground and race well against people who have been doing this for years, after so many weeks of apparent ineptitude, is a sign that maybe this whole NASCAR experiment won’t be a complete bust.

Forget the final finishing number, California was a career day for Danica in NASCAR, and she showed that if she decides to make the leap to the stock car side, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that she could compete toward the front. I’ve doubted her as much as everyone else, and still will until she becomes a consistent competitor, but the extreme anti-Danica crowd has a lot less ammunition after her solid run Saturday. She didn’t set the world on fire, but she held her own and showed competetence … and that’s a first step toward running up front.

With no more jumping back and forth between Indycar and stock cars, Patrick can now focus on her ride in the Nationwide series as she runs the next five races in a row. This will be a key stretch of her young NASCAR career, as we see what a focused Patrick can do if she keeps her mind in one place. She has a good car under her, and if she can build on the California momentum and get some more good runs in before the year ends, she’ll have done more than most people thought she could do on this side of the motorsports aisle.

It’s not quite a checkered flag, but it’s an important victory of a different kind.

Busch wins again in Nationwide
In other news, the sun came up Saturday. That’s how predictable these Nationwide races are becoming.

Chase etiquette?
On the heels of last week’s incident with Kyle Busch and David Reutimann, some of the drivers were asked whether the non-Chasers should race differently around Chase drivers. Jeff Gordon, a four-time champ, said he doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
“To me, you should not go into the Chase expecting guys that aren’t in the Chase to give you any extra leeway. That’s not the way it works. I had a heck of a battle with Ryan Newman last week and I felt like I was a lot faster than him. Had we got by him, it would have gotten us a couple extra spots. But he’s racing for position, racing for things that are important to him and he didn’t want to budge or give up on that so I respected that.”

Bowyer forgets controversy, has some fun
Fresh off a couple controversial weeks, Clint Bowyer said he has put the penalty over his illegal New Hampshire car behind him and focused on having fun this past week.

“I put it behind me. Last week in Kansas, I went on an elk hunt, my phone didn’t work for three days, then we went to Vegas and enjoyed ourselves for another couple of days. It was a hell of a good week. I got to enjoy it with some racers—Elliott Sadler, Bobby Labonte, Kasey Kahne and Dale Jarrett—just a good group of good guys,” Bowyer said.

“You normally don’t get the chance during the season to enjoy some of the guys you race against; those are some of the best characters in the business, so I really, really enjoyed this week and had a lot of fun. I didn’t worry about anything to be honest with you. Sometimes it’s neat to be able to just go out and get away completely, and I’m talking like completely away and enjoy yourself. It was a well needed week."

Daytona testing
It’s been a while since testing was done on a sanctioned NASCAR track, but with a repaving of Daytona being done, the drivers will spend a few days in January breaking in the new track.

“This allows everyone an equal opportunity to work on their setups and get everything in order leading up to Speedweeks and the running of the Daytona 500,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “Additionally, it gives the teams the chance to get accustomed to the new pit road and the added run-off areas on the backstretch. We’re excited about the new surface and believe it will only enhance the racing experience at Daytona.”

I’m pretty sure a good thing. I don’t want any more potholes to delay my Daytona 500 viewing plans.

This event, scheduled from Jan. 20-22, is also an opportunity for fans to get an up-close look at the sport. During NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest at Daytona, fans can watch the on-track activity and fans can enjoy two Fan Fest sessions – 5-9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21 and 5-7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 22. Driver question-and-answer and autograph sessions are planned. Tickets for the NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest are $20. Fans also can watch each day’s testing at no cost from a section of the Oldfield Grandstands.

“The test is going to serve as a great opportunity for fans to interact with their favorite drivers in advance of Speedweeks 2011 and the 53rd annual Daytona 500,” said Joie Chitwood, Daytona International Speedway president.

In addition, teams from the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series are expected to receive extra practice time during Speedweeks.

Zac Brown Band to entertain fans

NASCAR announced this week that a two-day fan fest in Miami will featuring a free concert in South Beach headlined by Zac Brown Band. It will be part of Ford Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the concert will be streamed live on NASCAR.COM so fans around the world can check out the show.

The band has previously performed at the October 2009 Talladega race and the 2010 Budweiser Shootout At Daytona.

Fans in attendance at the fan event can take part in driver question-and-answer sessions, and contests such as “Fast Lane Trivia”. Fans also will be able to drive race car simulators, change tires in a pit crew challenge, test their skills piloting remote-controlled cars, get their photographs taken inside a stock car, check out the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophy and more.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

You can join Kyle Petty on his latest charity ride

Kyle Petty is known as much for his charity as he is for his racing career and broadcasting, and his latest endeavor is about to kick off this month.

In tribute to his late friend Click Baldwin, Petty will hit the road and raise money for his Victory Junction camp on October 17 through the 8th Annual Ride to Victory. Riders will leave from zMAX Dragway and parade through Victory Junction. An added bonus comes at the end of the day, with the “Kyle Petty & Friends: A Songwriters’ Jam,” which will be held at Kyle and Pattie Petty’s Adaumont Farms.

The concert will include performances by country music singers Mark Collie, Billy Montana and Rafe Van Hoy. Kyle, who once released a few songs of his own, will be accompanied by violinist Jimmy Edmonds for a performance of his own.

Victory Junction is perhaps the best-known charity in NASCAR, and was the idea of Kyle’s late son Adam. The camp facility serves children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses, and is supported completely by donations.

“I always look forward to the Ride to Victory. It’s a fun day ride with new riders joining every year. Getting to show people Camp for the first time is always special,” said Kyle Petty. “This year we’re adding music! We’ll end with a ‘jam’ at my farm. Riding and music together, along with helping Camp; it doesn’t get any better.”

The one-day motorcycle ride lets fans ride across North Carolina with celebrities and help a good cause. The cost for both the day’s ride and the evening jam is $40 before the event, or $50 on the day of the event. Tickets for the Songwriters’ Jam alone are $20 and may also be purchased at 704-714-4545. Tickets at the gate are $25.

For more information or to pre-register, visit or call 704-714-4545.

Each participating fan will receive a commemorative pin, decal, and a Ride to Victory VIII T-shirt.

Win a Roush Yates Engine
Would you like a Roush Yates engine? Here’s your chance to get one, and all you need is a raffle ticket. Tickets went on sale starting Friday, October 1st and can be purchased at for just $5 each.

Proceeds from the engine raffle will give Davison Day School the funds to expand their Media Center, allowing more computers for more kids. The Sprint 360 engine will be raffled off at the upcoming International Motorsports Industry Show.

"I am excited to announce that Roush Yates will be raffling off an engine to raise money for Davidson Day School," said Doug Yates, CEO of Roush Yates Engines. "This is a great opportunity to use our knowledge and skills to give back to the kids in our community. Our Sprint 360 program is top-notch, and whoever wins this engine will not be disappointed."

Five dollar raffle tickets can be purchased at The drawing will be held at 3pm on Friday, December 3rd at the International Motorsports Industry Show in Indianapolis, Indiana. Everyone must be 18 years old to enter and you do not have to be present to win.

NASCAR video game coming
Those of who are into video games will be happy to hear the announcement that February 2011 will see the release of “NASCAR The Game 2011 for Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and Wii.

Players can battle it out for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and 22 real tracks will be presented. Also, multiplayer modes will allow you to compete online.

For more information visit

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Who should be in second NASCAR Hall of Fame class?

Voting is fast approaching for the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Last year saw the two Bill Frances, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson go in, so who should be next? Here’ s my take.

-- Lee Petty: The first big star in the sport, he won three titles and paved the way for his son to make history. Created one of the longest-lasting teams in the sport, Petty Enterprises.
-- Cale Yarborough: Won three straight titles, and could have won a bunch more if he hadn’t left the Junior Johnson team.
-- David Pearson: In my view, the best driver the sport has ever seen. Should have been in last year.
-- Bobby Allison: When you win 80+ races, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame
-- T. Wayne Robertson: He is credited with bringing Winston to NASCAR as title sponsor in 1971, which helped propel it from a regional sport to something the whole nation watches.

Other nominees are Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Jerry Cook, Richie Evans, Tim Flock, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Dale Inman, Ned Jarrett, Fred Lorenzen, Bud Moore, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Darrell Waltrip, Joe Weatherly, Glen Wood. All of them will make it eventually, but this isn’t their year.

I’m a little disappointed at the lack of including Smokey Yunick, legendary mechanic who always found a way to outsmart NASCAR. Is this payback to leave him off the list?

Wendell Scott documentary
Wendell Scott, the only African-American to win a NASCAR race at the Cup level, will be the subject of a documentary. Scott’s story, an inspiring tale of overcoming barriers and racism in the sport, will be told in a documentary produced by NASCAR Media Group, Max Siegel and ESPN, and will air in February during Black History Month.

Wendell Scott started racing on dirt tracks in 1947 and in 1961 he moved to NASCAR's top division (at the height of racial tension in America). He ran more than 500 races, before Talladega wreck in 1973 ended his career. His final numbers were 147 top-10s, and 20 top-5s.

The racism he endured during his career extended to his winning day, because even though he won at Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963, the trophy was presented to Buck Baker because NASCAR did not want to give the trophy to a black man. (he was later announced as the real winner.)

I look forward to this documentary, which will shed light on a man who probably battled more than any other driver has to race in the sport he loved.

Biffle needs consistency

Pop quiz: Who has won the most races in the Chase besides that logic-defying win robot named Jimmie Johnson?

The answer: Greg Biffle, who won Sunday at Kansas.

He has 7 wins, more than 10 less than Super-Jimmie, but he has only made one serious run at the title. Biffle needs to figure out how to be more consistent, though, as he is still mired in the lower half of the points.

Wins are nice, but in the Chase you won’t come out on top unless you are running up front every week, and that’s not been the case with Biffle in the previous Chases. He’s great one week, and average the next, and that won’t get the job done.

Biffle addressed this issue after the race, saying he will do everything he can to win each week.

"You know, everybody asked us last week if we're out the Chase, have we given up, whatever the case was. The 16 team will never give up. We're just going to approach each race like we did today, qualify the best we can, do the best we can in practice, execute the best we can at the racetrack,” he said.

“We're going to go to California and do the same thing, Charlotte Motor Speedway, you know, see what happens. I've still got a thorn in my side right in between my rib cage from Dover. We had a sixth, seventh, eighth place car, which is nothing to brag about, but that's what we did. That's not very good for us. Normally we're better than that. We got caught by that caution. We finished 19th. We passed the 13th, 12th, 11th and 10th place car on the last run of the day easily. If we just had track position, we'd be sitting here 30 points out of the lead for the championship right now instead of 80. We lost 50 points last week just because we got trapped by one caution. It was unfortunate for us. A win here propelled us up there. Maybe we'll go do the same next week."

Points are tight
Jimmie took his familiar spot atop the points, but only by single digits. And almost everyone else is hanging in so far. With so many Chase drivers finishing in the top-10 each week, it’s hard to gain any kind of sizable gaps.

At this point, Clint Bowyer is the only driver I would say is completely out of the hunt, and he even admitted that this weekend to the media. And Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart better keep running up front or they’ll both be pretty much dead in the water within the next couple weeks.

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Kyle Busch gets a karma lesson at Kansas

It’s the oldest rule in racing: If you hit someone, they’re going to hit you back.

Sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes it takes weeks, but as Jimmy Spencer once famously said, racecars drivers never forget.

Kyle Busch should’ve had this in his mind when the situation came up with David Reutimann early in the race at Kansas. Being in the Chase, he should have realized that actions have consequences. I recognize Kyle’s point that Reutimann was loose and that helped create the accident, but Busch had enough time to back off and he didn’t.

This set up the event later in the race – a determined Reutimann barreling directly into Busch in retaliation -- that would send Busch tumbling from 3rd to 7th in the points, hurting his title chances.

Meanwhie, old reliable Jimmie Johnson, who is threatening to turn the Chase into a monarchy, avoided any such nonsense, finishing second and claiming the points lead. These two different outcomes show the difference in the levels of driving maturity by Kyle and Jimmie.

Had Jimmie been in Kyle’s shoes in the first incident, I bet you he wouldn’t have run into Reutimann, and there would have been no angry driver seeking him out like a heat-seeking missile on the track later in the race. That’s because a champion like Jimmie Johnson always thinks big picture.

Kyle said after the race that his getting into Reutimann was just a racing accident and accepted blame. Someone like Jimmie doesn’t get into those types of accidents when all the chips are on the line, which is why he wins titles in Cup, not the junior series.

There was discussion recently about whether Kyle Busch is a dirty driver, and I do not think his is. Aggressive, yes; Dirty, no.

But actions like today show that the Chase and the urgency it creates may be prompting Kyle to take actions that aren't very wise, and the drop in points was of his own creation today.

I’m not saying Kyle’s out of the title hunt, as the top 10 points are still all very close to each other. But Kyle Busch learned a pretty important lesson today that he needs to keep fresh in his mind for the remaining 7 races: Retaliation will come if you get into other drivers, and they don’t give a damn whether you are in the Chase or not.

With this in his mind, I predict he might be a little more considerate, at least in the short-term future, as he tries to climb back up the point standings, as it's now clear that his competitors will not hesitate to strike back.

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