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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Times have changed, but Chevy still believes NASCAR helps sell cars

2010 Getty Images
Chevy believes that wins by drivers like Jimmie Johnson still translate into vehicle sales in the showrooms.

The saying “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” has long been the thought process of the major auto manufacturers. Otherwise, why would they spend so much money being involved in motorsports?

In recent years, though, with the cars looking so little like actual street cars, whether winning actually translates to vehicle sales has been a been a hot topic of debate, with many people saying that era has long passed and the two are no longer related.

I recently had a conversation with Terry Dolan, Manager of Chevy Racing, and he said that while the game has changed quite a bit, there is no doubt that the brand’s efforts in NASCAR and other forms of motorsport do pay off in the long run.

He said that while it’s might not be as instant as the old adage would indicate, he still believes the NASCAR program helps Chevy sell cars.

“The model has changed over the years. We don’t immediately see an inflow of fans to our dealerships to buy new vehicles. What they give us is credibility to market to fans attending to the events,” he said. “About 8 million fans attend races through the year, and we put out what I like to call an auto show in a state fair environment at the track, with our products on display. Fans can take a test drive in a Corvette or Camaro, they can take it on a lap through the infield of Indianapolis and experience the product without leaving the infield. We can get on their shopping list for purchase long-term. That’s how the model has shifted.”

The idea of “factory support” from the manufacturers is also evolving, he explained, and it’s not necessarily the same for every team.

“There are a lot of variations of the definition. What we bring to the teams is a lot of technology help. That varies depending on the series and type of racing we’re involved in,” he explained. “Things like engineering expertise we can help offer to a team to improve their performance. There is chassis work, data acquisition software, aerodynamics help … Think of that as a toolbox of items. And the GM racing engineers, the experts, go into the toolbox to supplement a team’s existing engineering knowledge to help form a championship team hopefully.”

Dolan also said that the goal of manufacturers is to get fans to identify with the product, and winning NASCAR races is a good way to do that.

“The fans identify with our drivers, teams and products, and they identify us as winners. If I try to sell a vehicle to someone who loves tennis, I’m intruding on why they’re there -- to watch tennis. But if I do it to a motorsports fan, it’s part of the experience.”

The drivers are key to getting fans to be fans of Chevy vehicles, and some go even farther than just talking about the brand.
“They’re all powerful ambassadors. The comments they make resonate with the fan base. But what’s important isn’t necessarily that they comment their Chevy was good on the track. It’s important for them to believe in the brand, and use it on a regular basis,” Dolan said. “Many are passionate about our cars and collect Chevy vehicles. And some are even dealers of Chevys … Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte. Rick Hendrick began in the business selling Chevrolets.”

Regarding the whole issue about cars looking less and less like street cars in recent years, there has been some talk of the Camaro, with its unique, recognizable design, becoming the model of choice for Chevy in the Nationwide series, and possibly Cup in the future. (Personally, I’d love to see it happen, as soon as possible.)

Dolan said Chevy is discussing possible use of the Camaro in the future, but nothing has been decided.

“We want the Camaro to be involved in motorsports. It’s in the Grand-Am series now,” Dolan said. “What’s important is we maintain the iconic lines of the vehicle. It’s very identifiable. We want to make sure we’re able to maintain that as we adapt it to motorsports entries. We want to maintain the iconic look.”

Dolan said there is less support from the top in the Nationwide and Truck series, but that doesn’t mean those series are ignored.
And while focusing on the big Chevy teams, efforts are made to get more teams up to that top level of racing, often by hooking them up with bigger teams like Hendrick or RCR to get engines, for example.

“At series below, they may have different needs. We have to do what’s right for the organization to reach out primary goal … to use racing to sell cars and trucks. We want to race to win, or it doesn’t make sense for us to participate,” Dolan said. “We want to make sure the audience aligns with the Chevrolet brand, and there has to be a business benefit involved. When you take different series, we have to do determine if it’s a wise use of resources.”

In the long run, Dolan said, the reason NASCAR is solid investment for Chevy is the wide scope of the sport.

“The important part of NASCAR is the scale and reach. If you look at the schedule, they span from February to November, South to North, East to West. It gives us the opportunity to reach our consumers from all of our regions all year. It’s a powerful package.

Help build your own Corvette

On a non-NASCAR note, Chevy is offering a unique opportunity to customers who plan to purchase the 2001 Corvette Z06 or ZR1, as they will have the option to help assemble their cars’ LS7 or LS9 engines at the GM Performance Build Center in Wixom.

“When you get into sportscars, the owner base spends a lot of time building a pedigree for their car. So we thought a natural extension was to offer owners a chance to literally work with the production team that assembles the engine for the Corvette,” Dolan said. “They can work with one of the builders out in Wixom, contribute to the assembly process.”

For more information, see

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McMurray and Ganassi team's rise in 2010 is truly miraculous

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jamie McMurray celebrates his Brickyard 400 victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He became the third driver to win the Brickyard and the Daytona 500 in the same season.

If I told you a year ago that Jamie McMurray would win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in 2010, you would have laughed in my face.

Facing a certain cut from the Roush Fenway stable and with no future ride in sight, he was a man without a home.

And while his 2010 hasn’t exactly been consistent, one thing is for sure: When the stakes are high, he comes up big – this time mostly due to a great call by his crew chief for 2 tires instead of 4.

After his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya dominated early in the race Sunday, and then proceeded to once again have terrible luck, McMurray pounced on the opportunity and went on to claim yet another huge victory. While he is 16th in points still and has only a small shot at even making the Chase, he has already earned $4,248,620 in 2010, more than any other driver in the series.

That’s because when the prestige of the race and the paycheck is big, the #1 car always seems to rise to the top. Considering the terrible run McMurray had for so many years in his Roush ride, it’s absolutely amazing that the story is playing out as it has.

“It is unbelievable and the greatest racing year of my life,” McMurray said after the win Sunday. “Honestly, I’m in shock right now.”

Even on an organizational level, this is pretty amazing. Team owner Chip Ganassi has had a career year. On Sunday, he became the first team owner in history to win the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season.

A year ago, the state of this #1 team last year wasn’t much better than McMurray’s at the time. Martin Truex Jr. was on his way out and the results weren’t there on a regular basis.

Montoya made the Chase, but the #1 car was almost guaranteed to run mid-pack week in and week out. If you would have told me in 2009 that the #1 car would go on to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in 2010, I would have laughed in your face.

But as it happens so often in racing, things change.

Just as things have gone sour for some other teams this year, it’s looking up for Ganassi and this #1 team this year. If they can get some consistency and put on a bunch of good runs in the next month, they could surge into the Chase and try to make a run at something even greater. Ganassi had some he heard the doubters last year pronouncing his team as dead, but didn’t listen to them.

“We had to pull our wings in a bit and make some changes, take it a little bit on the chin, which we did. But we always knew we'd be racing,” he said. “I think a lot of people in the media had us written off that we were bye bye. Everybody was ready to kiss us off. We knew that wasn't the case.”

You can tell by the way he talks that McMurray truly enjoys working with his team, something that wasn’t always the case at Roush.

“I’m lucky and privileged to be in this business. I am honored to work with the people I work with. That is all I can tell you,” he said, beaming with pride. “I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. You wouldn’t dare dream this, you wouldn’t dare to dream this kind of year. That is the kind of year it has been.”

But even if they don’t make the Chase, Ganassi, McMurray and the entire team have accomplished so much already they probably won’t stop smiling until Christmas.

That Sabates wit returns
The best line of the post-race press conference came from team co-owner Felix Sabates, who said, regarding the Cat in the Hat’s decision to release McMurray: “The guy that got to feel like an idiot tonight has to be Jack Roush. He's the one that let him go.”

You gotta love honesty, and Felix is never short on that trait.

Runner-up quote of the day also comes from Sabates, who said of Ganassi: “If you cut his veins, motor oil would come.”

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Giving Chase drivers a mulligan would tighten points battle

How do you create a better Chase?

I would say prohibit Jimmie Johnson from competing, but that wouldn’t be exactly fair.

Instead, other scenarios are being thrown around that aim to spice up the action and create better racing and points battles.
They often involve an interesting word: Elimination

This kind of scenario could involve, for example, kicking out five drivers after a few races, then one driver each race leading up to the final event.

"We want to make sure (the Chase) is giving us the biggest impact moments it was designed to do," France said recently. "Everything, to us, means pushing the winning envelope to mean what it needs to mean in our sport. We're happy with the Chase, (but) if we can enhance it in a pretty significant way, we may do that."

He elaborated at Indy, saying: "Regarding the options that we have on the table, the only ones we would consider are ones that would make winning at a given moment more important than they are today. How do you do that? There's a number of ways to do that. It comes with some version as you go along where certain races in the Chase, you have to win or do very, very well, to in fact move on.”

This is an interesting scenario, and would definitely make the drivers a little more antsy to get to the front, and we will find out soon enough if it actually comes to be. If it does, the quality of racing in the Chase should improve.

As far as the points battle, which is not usually tight come Homestead, I would say the only way to truly tighten up the points would be to allow a mulligan. I doubt this will happen, but if each driver was allowed to throw out their worst finish in the Chase, then heading into the final race we would probably have a handful of drivers competing for the title.

I also support the possibility of including a road course in the Chase. The champion should have to prove their road course skills to take the title. I also think more points should be awarded for winning, as this will force drivers to race harder for the win and increase the quality of the racing.

Stewart: Irwin would have been a champ
10 years after the death of Kenny Irwin Jr. in an accident at New Hamphire, Tony Stewart says NASCAR fans were robbed of a chance to see him do great things on the track.

“If Kenny (Irwin) were still alive, he would have won at least one championship by now if not more. I got the honor and privilege of racing with him every week and he was tough. He was one of the best. He was one of the best that I’ve ever raced against and we lost him at the wrong time for sure. He’s a guy that we never got to see. I got to see everything and got to see his full potential, but the NASCAR community never got to see his full potential.”

Fastest going last good idea for qualifying
While I’m not usually a big fan of the track, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Truck series race at Pocono will turn out. Even qualifying will be unique, as the revised procedure will allow for several trucks to be on track qualifying at the same time. In addition, the order of qualifying will be based on practice, with slower trucks going first and faster trucks going last. So up to the end of qualifying, you’re likely to see new names jumping to the top of the leader board.
Actually, that setup with the faster rides going last sounds like a very cool thing to do on the Cup end at some point in the future. Qualifying for the Truck series race will be televised on SPEED at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 31, from Pocono.

Download classic races
In a very cool move to those of us interested in NASCAR’s history, it was recently announced that classic races and historical content will now be available for download from iTunes. “NASCAR Classic Races, Volume 1” is currently available on iTunes and pays homage to the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, including Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson and Richard Petty. There are seven episodes – available for $1.99 each or $7.99 for the entire package -- including the highlights of five of Earnhardt’s most famous wins (1998 Daytona 500, 1999 Goody’s 500, 2000 Winston 500, 1989 Southern 500, 1984 Talladega 500), plus “The Junior Johnson Story” and a Richard Petty documentary. More content is promised in the future. Visit for more information.

Red Bull to decide on Speed
The fate of Scott Speed will soon be announced, as least as far as his future with Red Bull Racing. Speed drove a Formula 1 ride for the team before coming to NASCAR, and has had a rough go of it at the Cup level, but they are probably going to stick with him.

In all honesty, he’s the only sure thing they have. Brian Vickers should return next season, but after his health issues and taking time off, who knows how effective he will be? Speed has shown flashes of greatness, though not as often as the team would like, but unless they could steal a solid driver away from another team – perhaps Marcos Ambrose – I don’t see how they’re going to get anybody much better than Speed. I’m guessing he’s going to stay right where he is. As they say, better the devil you know …

RPM likely to downsize
Among the teams likely to see the most change in the offseason is Richard Petty Motorsports. Kasey Kahne is leaving, so that car is pretty much gone. That leaves A.J. Allmendinger, who the team is hoping will return along with sponsor Best Buy. They also hope Paul Menard and his daddy’s money stay with the team. If those two cars stay – and that’s still a big “if” – that may be all the team fields, cutting its entries in half. There are also rumors Menard will depart, taking his sponsorship to RCR for a fourth team – though I would hope Childress might rethink that considering the disaster that happened last year when he had four teams. And Allmendinger is allegedly talking to other teams, such as Penske Racing (where the future of Sam Hornish Jr. is very much in doubt).

If the Dinger leaves and Menard bolts, will RPM fade into the night and not exist at all? I hope not, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. However it shakes out, RPM is most definitely going to look a lot different in 2011, it it’s there at all.

Baby parade continues
Congrats to the ever-growing list of expecting NASCAR parents. The newest on the list are Ryan Newman, whose wife is now pregnant, and Sam Hornish Jr., whose wife is expecting their second child.

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Big changes coming for Nationwide series in 2011?

Of the many big changes being considered for 2011, one of them involves the Nationwide series and what role Cup drivers will have in the series. Ever since Martin Truex Jr. won back-to-back titles in the 2004 and 2005 seasons, every title has been won by a Cup driver doing double duty and racing full-time in both series (Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick). This year is likely to be a repeat, with either Brad Keselowski or Edwards winning the title.

As I have written many times in this blog, this situation has gotten out of control and needs to stop. I have no problem with Cup guys running the series and competing for wins, as that will get people out to the racetrack at a time when ticket sales are down. But there is something very wrong with Cup guys taking away any hopes of Nationwide regulars winning the championship.

This used to be a series where young, up-and-coming drivers could battle for race wins and the title, and showcase their abilities as they tried to impress team owners and move up to the next level and get a Cup ride. Now, they just hope to be one of the non-Cup drivers to get a top-10 finish.

My solution: Limit the number of races each Cup driver can run. Maybe 20 or 25. This way, they can pick their favorite tracks and race for wins, while the younger guys in the series can battle for the title. I would much rather see a Justin Allgaier vs. Trevor Bayne points battle in Nationwide than a Keselowski vs. Edwards points battle. Those guys can do their points battling in the Cup series.

If this doesn’t happen, there needs to at least be some kind of points limitations placed on the two-series drivers. Maybe they can run every race for the win and the money, but they only get half the points each race, or after a certain number of race they don’t even get points. The end result should be that Cup drivers can’t earn the Nationwide championship.

In a developmental series, a developmental driver should win the title (like Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Truex and others did in the past), not a veteran swooping down to steal their crown.

Season ender at Daytona in 2011?
In recent years, little has changed on the Cup schedule. That will change in 2011, with major adjustments likely and several tracks losing (California? Atlanta?) or gaining dates (Vegas?, Kansas City?). Among the biggest deal may be the moving of the final race of the season from Homestead to somewhere else – perhaps Las Vegas. This would be a logical move, with the end-of-season banquet already moved to Vegas last year. And the other option reportedly being considered?: A Daytona finale. Restrictor-plate racing determining the title seems kind of crazy to me, considering that it’s basically a lottery, but if it will bring interest in the sport I wouldn’t say it’s out of the realm of possibility. My money is on Vegas, though … no pun intended.

Indy double returning?
With an earlier Indy 500 start likely in 2011, it’s very possible at least one driver will try to complete both races next May. The idea for an early start team gained momentum when Bruton Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., proposed a possible $20 million bonus for any driver who could win both races on the same day.

While it’s highly unlikely any driver could actually win both races in one day, it’s a very cool thing that this is even being considered, and I would love to see someone like Tony Stewart actually pull it off. That’s a lot of motivation, and it would be possibly the greatest achievement in the history of modern motorsport if someone could pull it off.

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Martin feels disrespected, but he can blame Rick Hendrick for speculation

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Mark Martin is a pretty calm guy most of the time. He’s passionate about racing, but is used to the spotlight and the media’s commenting on him.

But even he has his breaking point. This week, he expressed his displeasure with the constant questioning by the media about where he’s going to be racing next season. See, it’s been months since he said publicly that he will finish the last year of contract at Hendrick Motorsports next season, driving the No. 5 car.

Problem is that all the media seem to believe Kasey Kahne will drive that car next year and alternative arrangements will be made for Martin.

That kind of questioning is disrespectful, Martin says.

"I'm going to do what I want to do, but for now I'm going to drive the No. 5 car," Martin said. "That's what I'm going to do in 2011. That's what I've said all along, and I felt very disrespected when the media doesn't accept that."

In this situation, I can see both sides. Mark is right to feel disrespected, but unfortunately this is a symptom of how things work in the media today. A different rumor pops up every day, especially during the silly season of NASCAR – which starts almost as soon as the season begins. If the media does not follow on these rumors and confirm or deny them, it is not doing its job. Unfortunately for drivers like Mark, that means we often have to ask questions that sound disrespectful at times.
At some point, though, he is right: Enough is enough.

I do know the simplest way to end this speculation, though: Rick Hendrick should announce right now what car Kasey Kahne will drive in 2011, then we can leave Mark alone.

Until this happens, the speculation about who will drive the #5 ride will continue, whether Martin likes it or not.

Hendrick, unfortunately, is only adding fuel to the fire. This weekend, he would not commit to saying that the ride is Mark’s and Kahne for sure won’t be driving the #5 next season.

Edwards, Keselowski penalties on target
In the end, it all worked itself out very well. After the reckless actions he displayed at Gateway, Carl Edwards had gained points on Brad Keselowski in the championship battle. Thankfully, the punishment by NASCAR has taken away any advantage Carl gained from dumping Brad. He lost 60 points, and is on probation through the end of the season. Brad is also on probation.

This is a good way for them to approach the situation, as it sets the precedent that there are some things that step over the “boys, have at it” line.
Being on probation, both drivers no longer have a license to play bumper cars and potentially damage a field full of cars while continuing their personal battles. I predict you won’t hear much from this rivalry anytime soon … at least until the probation runs out.

Great racing at ORP this weekend
I’ll just say it straight up: I love the racing at the track I remember as Indianapolis Raceway Park.

At less than a mile long, this track is built for great side-by-side battles, and it didn’t disappoint this past weekend.

Friday night, we got to see an awesome Truck series race that saw the return of Ron Hornaday to Victory Lane – his first win this year, believe it or not. People had left Hornaday for dead, declaring him out of the title fight, but you can never count this true champion out.

He put on a great move to pass Kyle Busch and Timothy Peters, and appears poised to go on another hot streak in the coming races.

Also in the Truck race, we saw a great series debut from a young female racer named Johanna Long. Amid all the Danica crossover hype, it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of females without a hype machine behind them that already know how to race a stock car.

Just a teenager, Long finished 17th driving for Billy Ballew Motorsports, and you can expect to see a lot more of her in the future.

Moving on to Saturday night, we saw a familiar result with Kyle Busch winning, but it was still an entertaining race with a lot of side-by-side action. Old buddies Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards played nice, but it came down to a tight fight between Busch and Edwards. While he was right on the bumper of Busch, Edwards was able to restrain himself this time and not cause any pileups.

After the race, Busch made a subtle dig at Brad Keselowski by saying Carl will race cleanly against those who respect him.
"It was a good, clean hard-fought battle. When you treat people with respect, that's what you get -- you get respect back. Carl
(Edwards) was awesome tonight.”

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Ferrari’s team orders make a mockery of racing

Anyone who saw the Formula 1 race this weekend saw a blatant disregard for the rules of the sport by Ferrari that should go against all race fans’ instincts of what should be allowed in a race.

What amazes me, though, is how many people in the racing community seem to be OK with allowing team orders to determine the results of a race. Several big-time names in the media, including members of the SPEED team that covers Formula 1 racing, have said they see nothing wrong with a team orchestrating the finishing order of their drivers to maximize their total points scored and ability to compete for the title.

While I recognize the argument that these people make – that team orders have been going on for decades in almost every form of motorsport – it’s an entirely different thing to embrace it and say it’s OK. The fact is Felipe Massa should have won the F1 race Sunday, but he pulled over and let Fernando Alonso win. This is disgusting to me, just as it was when Michael Schumacher was given a win by his then-teammate Rubens Barrichello a decade ago, and anyone who embraces this kind of race fixing has truly forgotten what motorsport is all about – letting the fasting guy win.

You could see in the post-race interview that Felipe Massa, who should have had a triumphant victory just one year after nearly being killed by a piece of debris on the track, was not happy with the result, but he bit his tongue and stood by the team line. And continuing his history of being the biggest crybaby in Formula 1, Alonso was apparently pleading during the race for the team orders to be given to Massa to let him pass. The fact that Alonso would ask for this lowers my opinion of him as a racer. He should want to earn every spot, not be given a win he doesn’t deserve.

Ferrari has already been handed a $100K penalty, but considering their budget is hundreds of millions, I hardly think they care. The proper thing to do would be to take away all their points for the race, which I highly doubt will happen. Unfortunately, though, anything less than that is an acceptance of the practice of team orders, so look for Ferrari and others to do it again in the future.

Worst call ever in Indycar

Remember the horrible call that stole a perfect game from Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga earlier this summer? There is now an equivalent in auto racing.

After a late-race restart that featured nothing out of the ordinary … just a bunch of guys racing hard for the lead … the powers that be at Indycar ruled that Helio Castroneves, the leader, was blocking and he penalized. As a result, he lost a race he should have won.

The normally jovial Castroneves was as livid as you could imagine after the race, and for good reason. He was robbed, clear and simple.

I don’t know what goes on in the mind of the higher-ups in Indycar, specifically race director Brian Barnhart – who made this particular call, but this ranks as one of the worst decisions in racing and one thing is clear: If they are going to call a penalty anytime there is close racing, they might as well close up shop and cancel the whole series.

The type of racing that brought out the penalty are what people want to see. Take that competitive racing away, and the series will return to being the unwatched joke it once was.

Good to see Villeneuve at Brickyard

I was happy to see Jacque Villeneuve make the Brickyard 400 field and run a clean race. He didn’t finish too great – 29th – But it’s not bad for his first career Cup points race.

He said the race was a lot of fun, despite some struggles.
"It was so much fun. It was very stressful because we came here without any practice and the team not knowing the car or the track,
and me not being in the Cup car for over two years. It was a big question mark. But, that's how I like it, when it's tough. We
managed to get going. After practice yesterday, I was worried for the race because we were very slow. But, we fixed it overnight and
we kept fixing it during the race and by the end, the car was running really strong.

"The engine overheated and that killed me. Then it was a question of staying out there. Halfway through the race, the car was really
difficult to drive with a broken splitter. I hit the wall a couple of times, so I backed it down because there was no point in trashing it. Then we came in the pit and fixed it and the car was very strong. I could run two-wide even against the quick guys and hold my own.
Too bad we lost too much time when the splitter came up. The car was loose after that, but it was fun. I could drive it hard."

I hope Villeneuve can get funding and return to Cup, as I’d love to see what this former Formula 1 champion can do in NASCAR.
Even though his name is still be mentioned for a possible return to Formula 1, he has said he wants to give the stock car route a try.

"I really, really enjoy driving [in NASCAR]," Villeneuve said. "That's why I moved back on this side of the ocean in 2006, was to concentrate on NASCAR. And it's taken a while to get going. It’s starting to open up a little bit. It would be great if we could carry on doing more ovals."

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

There's a fine line between racing and stupidity; Carl Edwards crossed it

Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Coming to the checkered flag, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski tangle as the battle for the victory during the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250.

There’s hard racing, and then there’s just plain stupidity.

Carl Edwards crossed that line Saturday night at Gateway, when he put Brad Keselowski in an extremely unsafe situation by blatantly causing a last-lap wreck that could have injured Keselowski and several other drivers.

We all remember these guys feuding and Brad flying into the air at Atlanta earlier this year, and we also remember Carl saying that he and Brad should try to avoid racing each other like that in the future, in the best interests of everyone involved. There was even a cooling-off period, and Carl even came over one race to congratulate Brad after a win. They were playing nice, and the feud seemed to have died.

But crazy Carl decided to make a return appearance Saturday night.
I would describe what happened myself, but Brad’s father Bob Keselowski, himself a lifelong racer, described it best after the race.

Visibly shaken and angry, he said, “"Brad got into Carl, getting into turn 1, racing. They bumped, they rubbed. Typical rubbin and racing deal. Carl went and flipped out like he did at Atlanta, tried to kill the kid,” he said, shaking. “I'm sick and tired of this. I'll get my own damn uniform back on and take care of this. He ain't gonna kill my boy. He just overreacted so bad. If he wanted to bump Brad it's one thing. But don't drive him through the inside guard rail. Don't put him in the grandstands at Atlanta. That’s asinine."

That’s about the long and short of it. I know he has a stake in this, but Mr. K nailed it with that description.

With NASCAR’s new “have at it boys” policy, every driver knows more bumping and banging is going to happen, especially at the end of races. That’s what Brad did … he bumped Carl out of the way, not wrecking him, and drove by. If Carl had done the same thing, that would have been a great finish and probably a thrilling drag race to the end.

Instead, he purposely barreled into the back of Keselowski like a madman, in the process tearing up about a dozen racecars who had nothing to do with the earlier incident. Keselowski took a hit so hard he could have easily been seriously injured, and other drivers took hard hits. The fact that Edwards tried to defend this behavior by saying Brad bumped him in Turn 1 shows he has no concept of what the proper amount of retaliation should be.

Keselowski said he could tell immediately that Edwards' action at Gateway were intentional, and that’s not cool with him.

"He turned left into me and wrecked me on purpose," Keselowski said. "I gave him the lane, and he still wrecked me. … I figured out a way to beat him. He wasn't happy with me, so he wrecked me. Wrecking down the straightaway is never cool, whether it's at 200 mph or 120. I'm sorry that's the way it had to end."

Meanwhile, here is Edwards’ not-so-logical explanation after the race:
"I just couldn't let him take the win from me. My guys work way too hard for that. We had a great restart. My guys built me a great car. We came to the checkered flag, and I hate to see stuff tore up, but we came here to win and he took it from us there in Turn 1. Just an awesome race. ... I'm sure some of them don't like that win -- Brad Keselowski fans and stuff -- but, man, I just couldn't let him take it from me. I had to do what I had to do."

Earth to Carl: There is a big difference between doing what you have to do and doing what would be considered assault on the streets of any city.

Tap the bumper, don’t smash it in … it’s a pretty simple rule that you should know after racing your whole life. I’ll give him credit for one thing, though. He’s honest about doing it on purpose and not making up a story about how he didn’t mean it.

Just like Atlanta, Edwards went way overboard and, unfortunately, it looks like NASCAR will once again let him continue his antics without punishment. (At Atlanta, it was even worse, because the incident that angered Carl wasn’t even that bad on Brad’s part, and Carl was several laps down when he wrecked Brad aggressively.)

Edwards met with Nationwide Series director Joe Balash after the race, and Balash didn’t seem too concerned about what happened, calling it “hard racing”

"I think at the last lap there was a lot of hard racing going on," Balash said. "There was some movement on the racetrack. It was a tough finish for a really great race. We've chatted about this evening, yes. We don't talk about any of those conversations [that we have] in the hauler."

Sorry, NASCAR, but my definition of hard racing doesn’t include reckless actions like we saw from Edwards at Gateway and Atlanta. I remember a race where David Gilliland pulled a similar incident during a race, smashing into Juan Pablo Montoya after a previous tangle.

Gilliland was parked for several laps, but Edwards won’t even get that punishment. Instead, he gets a win and a trophy. To top it all off, he trimmed Keselowski's points lead from 227 to 168 points. If I were NASCAR, I’d move Edwards to the back of the lead lap and give Reed Sorenson the win.

I’ll be looking on in future weeks, in both Nationwide and Cup races, to see how this renewed feud is played out. Brad has every right to resort to the thug tactics of Edwards, and I wouldn’t mind one good shot to make a point, but if he’s smart he can’t keep rubbing fenders with Edwards if he wants to win this Nationwide title.

The best course would be to not let this faze him and keep his focus on winning a title.

It’s a shame that while everyone with eyes knows that Edwards won the race in the worst way possible, NASCAR won’t do anything about it. “Have at it boys” doesn’t need to go away, as I like how it has increased the excitement level of the races, but when you act reckless and endanger people’s lives, there should be consequences.

Violent night
Even before Edwards’ outburst, it was already a violent night, with a rough wreck between the two Joe Gibbs cars, being drive by Matt DiBennedetto and Brad Coleman. DiBennedetto got loose and came down the track, then teammate Coleman smashed into him very hard, leaving both drivers pretty dazed.

Surprise runs
Until a late-race incident sent him back to 28th in the finishing order, young Ryan Truex had a solid top-10 run going in his Nationwide debut. Between him and Trevor Bayne (who is probably the most well-spoken young driver I’ve seen in a while, by the way), Michael Waltrip has a good base for his team’s future.
Also, there was another good run by Morgan Shepherd, driving again in the #21 for Richard Childress … I say keep him in there. It’s nice to see Morgan in some decent equipment, even if the sponsorship still isn’t there.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Waltrip hopeful Reutimann can stay hot, make Chase

He was in Iowa when David Reutimann won the first “real” victory for his Michael Waltrip Racing team, but team owner Michael Waltrip weighed in this week on his team’s breakthrough win.

"It was amazing just to watch David Reutimann drive up there and steal the lead from Jeff Gordon and hold off a determined Carl Edwards,” the always talkative Waltrip said. “That's how you do it right there. There was no fuel mileage involved. There was no rain involved. No one stayed out and got two tires. That was a race. That was, 'Okay, who's got what? Let's go race and see.' And David Reutimann was the guy that had the most for them."

He said he thinks the Chase is still within Reutimann’s grasp … though Watkins Glen might offer a snag in the team’s plans.

"That's 15 points a race. That's three to five spots, depending on where you finish. Certainly, that's very doable. The great thing is most of the people ahead of him, he outruns them. Performance is what will make the difference. So heads up if you just go race each other, I like his chances,” Waltrip said. “There's only one caveat to that. One of them is Watkins Glen, and David would rather go to a war zone then there I bet. But we've been testing a lot and he's gotten a lot better. He got a top-20 at Sonoma. I know race car drivers, and I'll bet he's thinking, 'I'll show y'all what I can do at Watkins Glen."

Truex part 2
Speaking of Michael Waltrip Racing, young Ryan Truex will make his first career start in the Nationwide series this weekend at Gateway.

"It is a really big opportunity and I'm just excited to get started. I can't wait to get the first race started,” Ryan Truex said. “Three years ago, I remember racing a Legend car at Wall Stadium in New Jersey and now I'm here. It's hard to believe how fast it's come, but I'm excited, ready to get started and make the most of my opportunity."

For those unfamiliar, he is the younger brother of MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. and has been tearing it up in the regional series in the past couple of years. If he can keep up the pace he has in the other series, look for him to do a lot more Nationwide racing starting next year or sooner.

400 for Kimmel
Frank Kimmel has made quite a name for himself driving in the ARCA series, and this past weekend he made his 400th start in the series. While ARCA traditionally is considered as a place people start out before heading to the higher levels of racing, Kimmel decided to make it a home, and has been racing against some of the best up-and-coming drivers for more than a decade, becoming the face of the series in the process as he kept on winning.
"It's amazing to me that we have made it this far," commented nine-time champion Kimmel. "When I started my first ARCA race I didn't know if that would be my last, and I wouldn't get the opportunity to do it again. To think that we finally got hooked up and ran for an entire season, and then we were able to run for championships and to accomplish all that we have. It's pretty remarkable that we have been this fortunate to be here."

While it isn’t on a level with the top NASCAR series, the fact he remains competitive shows he still has great racing talent, and 400 is a number to be celebrated in any series. Congratulations to Kimmel for all his success and reaching this milestone.

Good week for Toyota in Nationwide
The top 5 finishers in the Chicagoland Nationwide race were all Toyotas … Busch, Lgano, Brian Scott, Reutimann, Jason Leffler. Not too bad, and a rare accomplishment in today’s motorsports era, where parity is common.

Vickers working his way back
Speaking of Toyota drivers, I saw online that Brian Vickers, who was sidelined this year from his Cup ride by medical issues, is on the way back to racing. He posted a video on Facebook of him driving the pace car around the Chicagoland track, just shy of full speed, and you can tell he is itching to get back to racing. Unless the doctor forbids it, don’t count his career over yet. He wants to come back and will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

Vote for your favorite drivers
Voting has begun in the lower series (Nationwide, Trucks, etc.) for most popular driver. To vote for your favorite driver in Nationwide or Trucks, visit

Also, is hosting balloting forNASCAR's regional touring series -- the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, NASCAR Mexico Series and NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. Write-in votes are allowed.

Reigning most popular drivers include Brad Keselowski (Nationwide), Ricky Carmichael (Trucks), Steve Park (K&N Pro Series East), Ted Christopher (Whelen Modified Tour), and Andrew Ranger (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series).
Jr. will be on Make-A-Wish segment

Jr. grants a wish
When ESPN airs its present its “My Wish” series next week during Sportscenter broadcasts (July 18-22), in which sports-themed wishes are granted to children with life-threatening medical conditions in collaboration with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, NASCAR will be represented in the form of Dale Earnhardt Jr. “My Wish” offers a behind-the-scenes look at the wish-granting experience, and typically featured the wish children participating in sports-related activities with their favorite athletes.

No exact details of the wish involving Jr. have been announced, but whatever it is, it has to be rewarding to a driver to be able to give back to the fans in such a personal way. You can bet that kid won’t be thinking about his medical condition when he’s hanging out with Jr.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. expose the problem with the “one team” concept

Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Dale Earnhardt Jr. greets team owner Leonard Wood – who is celebrating his 60th season in NASCAR – on the grid before the start of Saturday’s race.

It was a big point made by Hendrick Motorsports early in 2010: The #5 and #88 would be working together more than ever in 2010.
They would share information in an effort to make both teams better.

Seeing how it’s all played out, it’s clear that’s not quite working out. After Chicagoland, both drivers are outside the Chase … just barely … and aren’t running consistently good each week.

Let’s look back at how this all played out.
The season started out decent for Martin, but not spectacular, after an awesome 2009 where he won a bunch of races.
Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled mightily to start the year.

So what happens? Personnel was shuffled … that translates to key people being taken off Martin’s #5 team and move to Jr.’s #88 team. Since then, Jr. has been improving (though Chicago was terrible for him), and Martin has been going backward in the standings. Martin even alluded this week to this shift in personnel possibly hurting his team’s performance.

It appears there is an “I” in team … and that “I” is Mr. Hendrick really wanting his cash cow Dale Earnhardt Jr. to finally do well in his cars so everyone stops asking him what’s wrong with the #88 team.

Of course, this has to come at the expense of Martin, kind of blowing out of the water this concept that the two teams could really act as one. In the end, they will fight for resources, and the #88 team will win because of its higher-profile driver.

This, of course, will never be admitted to by the organization, which must stick by its preseason claims of “one team”. But deep down, they have to know it’s not possible. And if they continue to make Martin feel not wanted, he might just let them give Kasey Kahne the #5 car next season and go somewhere else where he feels appreciated.

What’s next for Sadler?
Anyone who has followed NASCAR over the past few years knows that Elliott Sadler’s results leave a lot to be desired. He rarely runs up front, outside of restrictor plate tracks, and is long past the days when he was winning races. Last year, the Gillett team, now known as Richard Petty Motorsports, attempted to get rid of him, but he was under contract so they had to take him back.

Now, he has said that he won’t return to the team … as if that wasn’t obvious already.
So what’s next? I’m afraid I can’t be too positive about his future. In the past 6 seasons, he has 5 top-5 finishes. With numbers like that, no big-name team will be begging you for your service. There are other smaller teams that want Sadler, but it won’t be anyone who competes for wins on a regular basis, so he’ll be in the same boat he is now.

If he really wants to race competitively, he could go the route of other veterans and move back to the Nationwide or Truck series. But I don’t think that’s going to be something he will want to do. These guys get used to being around Cup, even if the results stop showing up, and will stick around in any ride they can find.

My prediction: A backmarker team will pick up Sadler, announce it’s their gateway to growing into a better team, but he’ll still run between 20th and 30th every week, at best.

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Next Childress stars may come from his own family

Credit: John Sommers/Getty Images
Austin Dillon celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Lucas Oil 200 presented by Speed on Mediacom.

Richard Childress has had no shortage of stars drive for him over the years.

Of course, Dale Earnhardt Sr. was the biggest of them all, winning 6 titles with his buddy Childress as car owner. Over the years, the list has included Jeff Burton, Mike Skinner, the late Neil Bonnett and many more.

But looking to the future, he has a couple of teenagers waiting in the wings to deliver him many more wins … his own grandsons.

Despite all the success he had with the Intimidator, I’m guessing this weekend at Iowa was his most proud moment in racing. First, his 18-year-old grandson Ty Dillon (in his first-ever ARCA start) took the pole for the ARCA race at Iowa. He went on to finish second in the race.

Then his other grandson Austin, 20, took his third straight Truck series pole, and went on to take the rest of the field to the woodshed and lead almost every lap. For the second time in two weeks, a vehicle marked #3 with a Childress connection was in Victory Lane.

Seeing these young kids doing well, his own blood, is probably even more satisfying than watching your best friend with 6 championships.

He must have been the proudest grandfather in the world, and he better get used to it … because his grandsons may be the next big stars for him.

Austin looks especially impressive, and not just because of his on-track performance. I was watching the ARCA race and he stepped in as a guest commentator, not an easy task by any means. He came off as a very smart young man who knows a lot about racing, not just some kid who knows how to put his foot on the gas pedal. That combination of smarts with good equipment from RCR, and he could have a long career that takes him all the way to the Cup series (though I doubt Childress will want him to take the #3 with him to Cup … I’ll go out on a limb and say he replaces Jeff Burton in the #31 if he retires in a few years)

There’s no need to rush it … after all, they aren’t even of legal drinking age yet. But it’s clear that the talent runs in this family. Childress raced for a while before becoming a successful team owner. Also, his son-in-law Mike Dillon, the boys’ father, spent some time in the Busch series.

Childress has the resources to put these kids through the proper stages, so they can make a proper evolution into Cup drivers. They don’t need to be like Joey Logano, jumping in so early.

Austin Dillon can spend a couple years in the Truck series, a couple years in Nationwide, then go on to Cup. Ty can spend some more time in ARCA and late models, then move on to the same progression as his brother – a couple years behind, of course.

And in the end, Childress might just have his own flesh and blood out there running for him in Cup and he can enjoy his retirement watching them race, should he ever get sick of running the team himself.

That, I think would make him happier than anything he’s ever experienced in his long, accomplished NASCAR career. And those boys seem to have the talent to make that dream come true.

More progress for Danica
Well, Danica Patrick ran another race. I have to say I’m pretty proud of ESPN’s crew. They were smart enough to realize that with her running in 25th most of the day, they should instead talk about the guys running up front and competing for the win most of the time.

I have to give her some credit for this latest run. It wasn’t great, but she didn’t appear nearly as clueless a the last go-around and got another career-best finish. I’m guessing that had something to do with the close proximity to her last start. This reinforces the point that other drivers (such as Dario Franchitti and Kyle Busch) are making: If she really wants to get good at NASCAR, she must fully commit and ditch the Indycar ride.

And the sooner the better. You can’t do this half-and-half thing for too long, as you’ll likely just struggle at both ends.

Rusty speaks his mind
Speaking of the ESPN coverage of the Nationwide race, anyone who is familiar with Rusty Wallace from his driving days got a glimpse of his well-known personality after the race, when he accidentally let his comment calling winner Kyle Busch a “dumbass” get on the air.

Quick history lesson: There is no love lost between these two, going back several years.

In a column written by Rusty about Kyle in 2006, he wrote: “He needs somebody to kick his ass. Casey Mears got loose and spun into Busch, but he didn't have any intention of hitting him. Then Busch came out there and slung part of his HANS at Mears. If I had been there I'd have stopped, backed up and got out of the car, and smacked Busch's face off. Then I would have gotten back in the car and took off.”

A couple years later, there was the time Kyle insulted Rusty and his son Steve simultaneously (a little joke about “That's Rusty Wallace's kid, so I'm not sure you're going to be able to talk to him much and get through his head, but we'll see.")

I’m curious whether ESPN will do anything about it. I like Rusty as a commentator, and over the years he’s been doing that job he’s been pretty fair to Kyle during broadcasts. But apparently Kyle’s comments in Victory Lane (about the “haters … I mean fans”) set him over the edge. I hope they keep him on the air, though, as it’s always more fun when a guy like Rusty is on the air with his often blatantly honest opinions.

Baby Johnson arrives
No fill-in driver needed … Little Genevieve Marie Johnson was born mid-week last week. At Chicagoland, Johnson said it was the best day of his life when she was born.
"It is unbelievable as parents know and understand. I'm only two days into this (laughs), so there is a lot more to go. Wednesday was the absolute best day of my life. The last two days have been incredible. Haven't had a ton of sleep,” he said. “it's just incredible. I'm so thankful that she is health and she is doing amazing and Channi is as well and we're excited."

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Reutimann victory well-deserved, shows others can win

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
David Reutimann celebrates in Chicagoland Speedway’s Victory Lane after getting his second series win.

It’s hard to feel anything but good about the win David Reutimann pulled off at Chicagoland this weekend.

His road to success hasn’t been the one many newer Cup drivers take.
He is not a spring chicken, he’s 40 years old. (Or as the Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy once famously said: “I’m a man! I’m 40!”)

He comes from a racing family, grew up the son of a short-track legend, Buzzie Reutimann, and dreamed of making it on the NASCAR stage one day despite not getting there at a young age.

Unlike the young stars of today, who often are groomed from childhood by the big teams and start their first Nationwide race at age 18, Reutimann didn’t make his major series start until age 32, and wasn’t a full-time NASCAR driver until age 34, when he began driving in the Truck series for Darrell Waltrip.

In the short time he has been in the Cup series, he has been fairly inconsistent, but that’s in part due to the nature of running with a new team – Michael Waltrip Racing – for which he has become the public face.

He had one prior win, but nobody cared because it was a rain-shortened event where he only led for five laps under caution. He and his crew almost had to apologize for winning.

After his dominating win at Chicagoland, where he had to pass legends like Jeff Gordon to win, there will be no more apologizing.

Reutimann and his crew chief Rodney Childers gave emotional Victory Lane interviews, and you could almost see the monkey lifting off his back in Victory Lane.
"I don't even know what to say. It was probably the lamest burnout I've ever seen at this race track, I was tearing up pretty bad,” he said. “I have to thank all my guys, they did a great job. There was no rain tonight. We earned this one, nobody gave it to us and that feels really good."

He said the win is a sign of the future for his team and the Michael Waltrip Racing team as a whole, which also saw a strong run from teammate Martin Truex Jr. for part of Saturday’s race.

"Every one of these guys you see behind me that works on this car and the guys at the fab shop, Toyota and Toyota Racing Development has given us some great horsepower tonight, it's phenomenal horsepower and it's just a total team effort. I heardso much stuff for winning a rain-shortened event (at Charlotte last year) that everybody said we didn't earn it. I don't know what they can say about this one."

No one is expecting any miracles from here on out, and the MWR team still has a long way to go to catch up to teams like Hendrick and Gibbs, but it’s nice to see some new teams doing well, and a likable guy like Reutimann being one of the new list of contenders.

If he can ride this momentum into strong finishes over the next 7 races, he may be able to make the Chase, which would be a pretty impressive feat – and something he just missed doing in 2009. And just like Saturday’s win was applauded by fans and his fellow competitors, Reutimann making the Chase would also be a very positive story for NASCAR. It’s not likely he could tackle the Jimmie Johnsons of the world, but it would be nice to see him try.

Was that the 99 up front?
Alert the police: A missing person has been found.
That missing person is a competitive Carl Edwards, who was in the running to take the checkered flag at Chicagoland, finishing 2nd. If the race had been longer, he might have won.

Is this a trend? Edwards certainly hopes so.
“Second is bittersweet. You want to win, but we are obviously very happy with the result. If we run that well every week we will win plenty of races. The key is that we ran so well. If we can continue that every week we will be in good shape,” he said.

Jr. tells it like it is
Some drivers sugar-coat it when you ask them how their night went. That wasn’t the case with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after a terrible run at Chicagoland.
"We had just a really shitty, shitty driving car all night,” he said. “We made it worse at times and made it better at time. We just weren't very good. There aren't any excuses, we just weren't very good."

He said it wasn’t for lack of effort trying to get the car running better.
"We tried all the way to the end, we just didn't have any chances that really responded. We wore out every right rear tire we put on my car to the cords. So what are you going to do? I just let Lance rip away, man. I let him swing away trying to get the car as good as we can get it. I believe what he does is right. Tonight some adjustments didn't respond like we thought they should of, but, sometimes this car doesn't behave like you think it would. Some things you do to it don't really turn around and do what you think. We are pretty disappointed, little bit devastated about how we ran tonight. We got nobody to blame but ourselves. We worked really hard in practice trying to get better because this was about how we were going to run. We just couldn't make it better all night."

600 for Gordon
It’s a testament to the long, successful career of Jeff Gordon that on the night he made start No. 600, he had a car good enough to win the race. While he’s no longer dominating like he did in the 1990s, he is remaining far more competitive than most drivers are at start 600 (see Bobby Labonte, who will have start 600 at Indy, for comparison).

Looking back, I remember watching Gordon win nearly every race I attended as a fan for a period of about 2-3 years. It was quite frustrating to see that every time, but you couldn’t deny his team’s dominance in that era.

Gordon said this weekend that No. 600 is a big accomplishment for him,
“We've done some amazing things over those 600. I'm proud of it. I'm proud 600 in we're still competitive enough to win races like we were tonight. Put up a heck of a fight.

After Saturday’s race, 2nd-place finisher Carl Edwards shared a story about his memories of Gordon’s beginnings.
“I remember I was at the grocery store, probably in 1993, with my Mom and I picked up a racing magazine on the rack and remember thinking how this guy had it made. There you were on the cover of the magazine standing next to your race car. You had a cool race car, driver suit, mustache and mullet. I was thinking that I couldn’t even grow a mustache. It is so cool to be sitting up here with you and on the night of your 600th career start. Congrats man, it is a great milestone.”

Needless to say, he’s come a long way since that mustache and mullet era.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s win in the #3 car was the perfect end to an era

Friday night was a special night in NASCAR history.

Whatever your opinion of the most popular driver in NASCAR, anyone with any sense of the history of this sport had to have a smile on their face after the Nationwide race ended Friday night, when a man named Earnhardt drove a car with the #3 on the side and an 80s-retro paint scheme to Victory Lane at Daytona, a track that has provided both unsurpassed triumph and unsurpassed tragedy for the Earnhardt family.

What’s most amazing to me was how much work went into getting this one racecar on the track. Discussions had to involve Dale Jr., Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Teresa Earnhardt – formerly known as the wicked stepmother to many fans.

After the race, Jr. even said he wasn’t even sure who owned the car, but that’s pretty irrelevant. What matters is that everybody got together in the name of one idea – honoring the one man they all respected, Dale Earnhardt Sr. Any personal disagreements of the past were put aside, and this awesome-looking car came to be.

And in case any of you are holding out hope that Jr. will drive a #3 car in the future, forget about it. He left no room for the door to be open again, as evidenced by this post-race quote.

“It doesn't make sense for me to do this again. I think in the Nationwide Series, it makes enough sense, and I really wanted to do it, and I've done it. I don't ever want to do it again. And I'll never change my mind, ever."

With this being the last time, he definitely went out in style … by holding off a charging Joey Logano, who was right on his bumper and easily could have dumped him (though Logano might not have made it out of the track alive if that had happened.)

It was clearly an emotional win for Jr., his crew and his fans, many of whom no doubt shed a tear after seeing that car get the checkered flag.

It was similar to the emotion felt when Jr. won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona just five months after his dad passed way. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. was so choked up he could barely answer a question from the TV reporter, and the win was almost universally celebrated by the NASCAR community.

Jr. was extremely candid and almost overwhelmed by his emotions at times as he gave his postrace interviews Friday night, even making a few comments about his father – something you rarely hear him do. (My favorite was in Victory Lane, when he said, “I never knew what I was going to get with Daddy—he was a loose cannon. But I think he'd be proud.” Moments of insight into his relationship with Sr. are very rare from Jr.)

I’m sure there will be some people out there who hate everything Earnhardt, and that’s fine. It is, after all, America and a free country – something we celebrated this weekend on the 4th of July – and they have the right to do so.

But this small minority will be dwarfed by the many fans who will forever remember this weekend, which may go down in history as the last time an Earnhardt drives a #3 car to Victory Lane (unless Jeffrey Earnhardt or another descendent starts to make an impact in the sport.)

When I first heard about this car, my immediate thoughts were how cool it would be if Jr. won, and that it was actually pretty likely considering his past dominance at Daytona. When I saw Jr. up front for that final restart, I knew something awesome was about to happen, and I’m glad I was able to see it happen.

It was the perfect end to an era, and now Jr. can use this emotional boost as he returns to concentrating on making the Chase, winning races and catching up to his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.

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