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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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "Last year we sort of fell off the radar"

Is he judged too harshly because of his name? Or not harshly enough? That's the eternal question, and of course I'm talking about Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This year he will be paired with 5-time champ Jimmie Johnson in the shop, have a new crew chief in Steve LeTarte and will try once again to get back up front and in Victory Lane and put to rest any argument about his ability to compete in NASCAR's top division.

When he wasn't answering endless questions about what his dad would think about things in today's NASCAR (as if he can channel the man ... come on, media), Jr. said he's aware of how badly the team performed in 2010, but is confident he will return to his winning ways.

"When you'e running good you can put up with about anything. It's not fun being on the radar when you're running like crap. But last year we sort of fell off the radar altogether," Jr. said. "I want to be in racing for a very long time, and I know that I can drive good enough to run well. You know, I'll stick around until I get it right. It's just eventually going to have to happen.

Jeff Gordon reflects on Sr.
It's been 10 years since the death of Dale Earnhardt, so expect a ton of talk about him in the coming week.

Jeff Gordon, who was a young lad when he first met Sr. and looked to him as a mentor and friend, was among those sharing his memories of his time with the legend and all that he learned from Earnhardt.

"I still have a hard time really even believing that he's gone. I had such amazing experience racing with him, time I spent with him away from the racetrack as well," Gordon said.

"You know, I think that's a legacy that will just live on forever, especially when you come to Daytona. The guy was just so amazing here. He just knew the draft and how these cars worked around the draft better than anybody. You couldn't help but be a student of that every time you're out there. And he certainly taught me a lot that led to some Daytona 500 victories, I believe."

Harvick ready to battle for title again
Harvick probably has more of a connection to Earnhardt than any other driver, considering he had to take over Earnhardt's car the week after his death ... a car he is still driving 10 years later at Richard Childress Racing.

Harvick said that when he first started driving the car, he couldn't help but feel uncomfortable, but that changed as he started to achieve on his own and emerge from Dale's shadow.

"You guys all know, I was very uncomfortable with it in the beginning, didn't like it, didn't want to be a part of it, and you know, as the last three or four years have come, I've learned to become more comfortable," Harvick said. "And I think the biggest reason is we've been able to accomplish a lot of things on our own."

And achieve he has, nearly winning the title in 2010 in a title race that literally went down to the last laps. He hopes to take that title step in 2011 and dethrone his nemesis Jimmie Johnson.

"The biggest thing is it's all about winning a championship at this point, nothing else. Nothing else is good enough at this particular point in time. So it's great to have a good year, and we had a good year last year, but in the end it's all about taking home the one trophy that we don't have, and that's the championship trophy. It's been a long time for Richard and it's been a long time since we've been able to experience that as a company, and we've experienced that a lot together as far as Nationwide championships and things like that, truck championships as owners. But those aren't good enough, either."

Hamlin: Qualifying must improve
If you believe Denny Hamlin, he didn't think about racing during the short NASCAR offseason.

"To be honest with you, I haven't even thought about racing in the last month. I really haven't, not one bit. You've just got to move past it. There's nothing we can do about it. There was obviously several one laps in certain races that changed a lot of things that happened during the course of the year, but that's racing," Hamlin said.

But if you believe that, you don't know Denny Hamlin. It was his title to lose at Homestead, and he gave it away. That has to sting. Luckily, he's young, has a long career ahead of him, and the new season is about to begin -- so he can try to avoid those mistakes and claim the throne this year.

He knows where he has to improve.
"There's a lot of areas that I've got to improve on, that I know I can improve on. Qualifying is one. I can't start dead last every single week like we did last season. Those are things that are going to help us finish better and obviously give us better chances to win more races."

Hamlin also refelcted on his very cool offseason charitable actions -- which included giving a vacation away in a Twitter contest.

"The winner was a true race fan. That was very cool. So she decided she wanted to go to the Brickyard, which is great that she could go anywhere and she decided she wanted to go to a NASCAR race. For me that is very rewarding to see that happen," Hamlin said. "For me, I don't know, I just have moments where it's just like, I look around and think about how fortunate I am and want to give back to the people that help in these stands and watch these races and buy our souvenirs."

Stewart 'ashamed' over Australia incident
Tony Stewart made some headlines in the offseason due to an off-track fight with a track owner in Australia, which almost got him in trouble with local police. (He spent some time in a jail cell, but was let go and allowed to return to the U.S.)

At Daytona for testing, Stewart was apologetic about the incident and said it was a mistake that left him embarrassed.

"Well, I'm definitely not proud of what happened, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have dealt with it much different. But we had been over there for almost five weeks, and we had been dealing with the same problem with the racetrack, so it wasn't something that was just one incident that led up to it. It was a combination of the whole trip. But there was such a dispute on how they were doing a couple different aspects of preparing the racetrack and what it was putting the drivers in the situations that we were put in," Stewart said.

"I'm home, and I'm back doing things that are getting my mind off of it, obviously. Like I said, this isn't something that I've blown off. I mean, I've lost a lot of sleep over it because I'm very embarrassed that I made it through a whole trip and the night before I come home I get in an altercation with somebody, and that really hasn't happened for a while. I'm not at all the least bit proud of it. I'm ashamed about it, but at the same time it's been nice to get back with the team and it's nice to come down here and worry about driving the race car again."

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Vickers out to prove he can still compete after illness

Brian Vickers was right on the cusp of doing something special when everything went bad in 2010 and he had to put his racing career on hold.

I saw him dominate a race weekend at MIS in 2009, and knew he could do great things in a racecar if the Red Bull team game him the proper equipment.

Then, something much more important than racing happened ... and Vickers learned his life could be in jeopardy if kept racing. His heart couldn't handle it, and he needed surgery.

It couldn't have been easy for him to walk away ... we all know racers are pretty dedicated to their craft. Looking back at it now, VIckers said it was a difficult process to get back into a racecar, and he wondered if it might never happen.

"It was obviously a long process. Not only finding out what happened and trying to figure out what's the problem, how do wesolve it, where do we start -- you know, going down the list. Going through the surgeries, having the heart surgery was not asmall thing. The doctor said, 'You need to have heart surgery.' It's like, 'Whoa.'" Vickers said. "Making that decision, going through that process and then training again and getting back into the routine and getting prepared for the season. Going back to my first test at Disney was a really big moment. Being back in a car and not knowing -- there was a point in time in my life when I wasn't sure if I was ever going to race again."

So what was it like being on the sidelines? Not so good, Vickers said.

"Watching a Cup race that you're supposed to be in from the sidelines, sucks. It's horrible. I've used this quote several times and I want to give the guy credit that said it first because it's true, but he said it the best, Dale Earnhardt said one time when he was out of the car that it was like watching his wife cheat on him. That's pretty much what it felt like sitting on top of that box," Vickers explained.

"That's why I didn't go to a lot of the races. When I was there, I was just miserable."

And don't expect him to want to take baby steps now that's he's back ... the former Busch series champion still has his eyes on a Cup title, and his illness and layoff from the sport hasn't changed that.

"I just want to win a championship. I do believe that the experience has made me a better person and therefore I think that translates on the race track."

Wood Brothers team believes Bayne is special
I have written a lot about how Trevor Bayne is one of the stars of the future in NASCAR, and apparently I'm not alone in my views.

Donnie Wingo, crew chief of the Wood Brothers' #21 car that will be driven by Bayne in 2011, said that it's clear Bayne is just flat-out fast in a racecar and should turn some heads this year.

"From the time he got in the car at Texas last year to the end of the race, he is just one of those guys that just has this knack. The part I liked about Texas was he did a real good job of racing for us. A kid like that, he has the speed, a lot of times it takes some of those guys to get the racing part down but I think he already has that down," Wingo said.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood echoed those sentiments.
“For one thing, he is very mature for his age. He is very aware of what it takes to be a race car driver in the Sprint Cup series. I think he understands that really well. He is just really good with his feedback in the race car and all-around is really ready to go racing, in every single aspect.”

Despite Bayne being very young, Wood said that doesn't mean he's inexperienced.

“Trevor has been racing since he was 5 years old, so if you do the math he has 15-years of experience racing. Racing is racing. The communication that he and Donnie (Wingo) had at Texas and as well as the tire test here at Daytona in December has been great. They are communicating really well. They seem to really be good with where each other are at. That is where it starts, making sure that the crew chief and engineers and the people that are controlling what is in the car and why it is in there mesh with the driver. So far it really seems to be doing that. It is one of those things that you can’t really make happen. It just is or it is not. Fortunately for us it looks like it is and I think we will be fine.”

So what does Bayne think about all these kind words? That's simple; he's going to do his best to prove his employers right.

“I think I just go out there and race. That is what I did at Texas. We went out and had to make it on time there which is different for the first five races this year because we have points. We will be able to work on race setup those first five and try to knock out a top-15. If we can run top-15’s those first five races then that would set us up to be decent on the points. That is what we need to do to try accumulating more sponsorship to keep going. We are gunning for 17 races, but if we can get more sponsorship we can keep going. We want to do as well as we can in the first five to help us set up the rest of the season.”

And if he does do well and runs strong all season, you can bet he'll be in consideration for a 2012 seat at sister team Roush Fenway in case a seat opens up -- which is possible if David Ragan fails to deliver solid results or one of his teammates doesn't stay with the team.

Waltrip back in #15 to attempt Daytona
10 years after winning the Daytona 500 on a day remembered for NASCAR's biggest tragedy, Michael Waltrip will be in the #15 car attempting to qualify for the race. (he'll have to race his way in, as a rumored points swap from the TRG team fell through).

"Ten years ago I won the 500 in my first race with NAPA and we know February 18, 2001 is a day that NASCAR fans will never forget. What looked to be a storybook ending turned to tragedy seconds later," he said. "To mark the 10th anniversary of that race and my 25th consecutive 500 will be quite emotional for me and fans alike."

Waltrip goes into detail about the events of that weekend, among other topics, in his book "In the Blink of an Eye" -- which goes on sale Feb. 1.

Shorter races sought by Fox
The chairman of Fox Sports went on record this week to say that he prefers shorter races ... specifically he wants them to be three hours at a maximum.

I agree in theory, as shorter races mean the action on track will heat up quicker. There are some obvious exceptions, though ... you can't exactly shorten the Coke 600, for example.

But I don't think fans would be upset if some 500 mile affairs became 400 milers, or even less ... as long as the racing was good. That's really all the fans want.

Shane Hmiel improving
Good news continues to come from the Hmiel family, who said that Shane Hmiel, who was paralyzed after a Silver Crown race in October, has now regained use of his limbs, and is still clinging to hopes he can race again one day.

Many people probably remember Shane from his younger days, when he was permanently banned from NASCAR after failing several drug tests. That's ancient history now, and this latest setback -- which came as Shane was trying to get back up the racing ladder -- is the start of yet another chapter in this young driver's career.

His father Steve Hmiel, who works for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, said doctors think Shane will be able to walk with crutches by this fall, so there's still a long battle to fight -- especially since Shane has a six-inch plate in his neck and two eight-inch rods in his back.

I wish him the best in his recovery.

Key season for David Ragan
Roush Fenway teammate David Ragan is under pressure heading into 2011, and he knows it. After showing promise in 2008, he regressed in 2009 and 2010 and many people wondered whether he deserved such a high-profile ride.
He knows all eyes will be on him this year, including those of the people in charge at Roush.

“We have a lot of expectations on ourselves for this year. The last couple years we have been real inconsistent with a few runs here and there but we could never get in a rhythm where we knocked off top-5 and top-10 finishes. That is what gets you in the Chase and gets the most points. We have got to run a lot of mistake free races."

He said he believes the team can provide him the cars he needs to run well every weekend and possibly reach Victory Lane.

"The biggest thing is that we have our race cars really fast at Roush Fenway racing. I think the engine department is really prepared more so today than they have been in a couple of years. Our race cars are very nice and lightweight and seem to be very fast. That gives us a lot of confidence going into the year and that is a good thing. We all put pressure on ourselves because this is an important year for us and for our team. We want to get Ford back into victory lane and get UPS into victory lane. I want to win a Cup race very badly."

New start for Marcos Ambrose
New team, new manufacturer, new beginning.

That's the setup for Marcos Ambrose in 2011, who returns to driving a Ford and will be one of two drivers in the stable for the newly restructured Richard Petty Motorsports, which went through quite a bit of drama at the end of 2010 and went through a change of ownership.

Ambrose, who has always been great on road courses, but had started to show flashes of greatness on ovals in the past couple years, and he hopes to continue that in 2011.

He hopes not only to compete this year, but to battle for wins on a regular basis.

“We need to win, no doubt about it. We expect to win. We have a company behind us with Stanley and Dewalt that want to win races and it is what we are here to do. If we can win races and be consistent then you never know what is possible.”

He said he is honored to be part of team that bears the name of a 7-time NASCAR champion.

“Well, it is a little intimidating. Not only now will (Richard Petty) say ‘Good-day, how is it going?’ but he will also want to know why I didn’t win the race," Ambrose joked. "There is a lot of prestige being associated with Richard Petty Motorsports and it is a real honor for me to drive for The King and I never thought I would get that chance. I am looking forward to the opportunity and hopefully he is going to be proud of me."

It won't be easy for the team, Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger, as any time an ownership change happens it can create a heavy adjustment period, especially since this team nearly went out of business last fall.

But Ambrose has talent, and the enthusiasm for racing that is needed to win, so the question is whether the team can provide him the equipment that will allow him to compete with the big names in the sport.

I hope that is the case, though the more realistic scenario is that will take a while for RPM to provide competitive cars.

I hope Marcos proves me wrong, though, as I'd love to see him and A.J. running up front with the usual characters.

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Travis Pastrana impresses in NASCAR debut

Now that was a fun way to start the stock car racing season.

The Toyota All-Star Showdown was held Saturday night at Irwindale, California, and the action was intense throughout the 225-lap event at the half-mile track.

In typical short-track form, there was great battling up front all night, and Jason Bowles ended up taking the checkered flag just ahead of Canadian champion D.J. Kennington in a race that featured a lot of young talent that will no doubt be in the upper ranks of NASCAR soon. Others who ran up front in the race included Paulie Harraka and Derek Thorn.

Most notable, though was the 6th-place run of Travis Pastrana, a guy who had never been in a stock car race until Saturday night. The extreme sports star is staring 7 Nationwide races this season, and if Saturday was any indication, he's going to translate quite well to NASCAR. He ran tough all race, dodging wrecks in front of him and getting everything he could out of the car, and engaging in an exciting three-wide race to the checkered flag to claim that 6th position. Not too shabby for a first stock car race.

If he brings that kind of attitude to the Nationwide series, he's sure to spice it up later this season, and bring some of his extreme sports fans with him in the process.

Wendell Scott film offers important history lesson
NASCAR was not always a sport that had a 'Drive for Diversity,' and that disturbing past will be explored in the ESPN film "Wendell Scott: A Race Story," which will share the difficult story of Scott, who fought against racism and made history by winning in NASCAR during a very difficult time for race relations in this country.
I'm pretty excited to see this show, which will air on Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. (same day as the Daytona 500),

“Wendell Scott’s legacy will live on forever as the man who broke NASCAR’s color barrier and whose courage and bravery paved the way for minorities to pursue careers in the world of motorsports,” said Paul Brooks, senior vice president of NASCAR and president of NASCAR Media Group. “This film will help preserve that legacy by telling the story of his historic ride and the positive impact his contributions are still having on the sport today.”

I'm curious to see how the film handles Scott's lone NASCAR win, at Jacksonville Speedway in 1963, which was so controversial that NASCAR didn't even announce him as the winner that day -- both for fear of what the white crowd might do and to avoid the uncomfortable image of him in Victory Lane with white trophy girls.

I'm also curious if the film will mention what Scott's family has previously said in interviews --- that major stars in the sport like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison were openly racist against Scott and did they best to keep him out of the sport.

Current minority drivers still look at Scott as a source of inspiration, including young Darrell Wallace Jr.

“Wendell Scott opened doors for me and so many others just like me,” said Wallace, who is part of the Drive for Diversity program. “He’s been a hero of mine for a long time and I’m thrilled he’s being honored and remembered in such a significant manner.”

For those unfamiliar with Scott's place in NASCAR history, I recommend seeing this film, which I hope will not gloss over a rather unpleasant part of the sport's history.

Jimmie begins his year early
Jimmie Johnson is not waiting for Cup series action to get in his first 2011 race, as he is currently competing in the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race.
He said it's a whole different bag than his usual ride, due to the inability to just knock someone out of the way if they're blocking you.

“It’s tough in these cars for a couple of reasons. One, you’re not really sure who’s in the car in front of you. After you yell and scream a few times on the radio, they say, ‘Well, that’s so-and-so,’ and I don’t really know these guys well enough to understand what that means, but I can tell in the inflection in my crew chief’s voice a few times that I should be expecting that from a few guys. And the other thing, it is so hard to not just turn someone around and get rid of them. With the Cup car, you can do that easily. These cars, it will end your day. So, I had to stop myself a few times. And after two or three times of being there and getting chopped – I’m like, ‘Man, if you were in a Cup car you’d be sitting there backed in right now.’ I miss that aspect of Cup cars. If Kevin Harvick was in one of these, I think he would just run ’em over.”

Still, he said he's happy to get back to racing, whatever the vehicle.
“The race is such a challenge mentally and physically. The cars are a lot of fun. Being able to see friends and guys I have respected and watched over the years race, shoot the breeze with them some and then be out on the track with them wheel-to-wheel is a lot of fun as well. It is a great event. I love competing in it.

Kenseth hopes consistency will help
Matt Kenseth has seen more than his share of crew chiefs, but this year he is returning with the same one, and that should be a boost to his competitiveness. Kenseth said he hopes the momentum that he began to see during the Chase last season.

“I think it is important to get consistency within the team and with the personnel and car builds and everything. I think that always helps. Last year we finished the year pretty strong. We didn’t get the win we were looking for but we still finished pretty strong in the points and got some good finishes toward the end of the year. Hopefully we can roll that into this year and keep it going.”

As far as the Daytona 500, he said it will be all about one thing.
“I think it will be just like Talladega since they paved that. Handling isn’t going to matter. I think it is going to be all about drafting.”

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Think Mark Martin's done after 2011? Think again

He may be numerically older than most of the other drivers, but Mark Martin is extremely fit and young at heart, and he wants to race for a while still.

The ironic thing is that this is a guy who announced five years ago that he was ready to retire, and now it looks like it could be another five years before he stops racing.
"I'm absolutely, without a doubt, going to be driving race cars next year, just not going to be in any hurry to worry about that," he said. "I'm focused on 2011 and really enjoying being a part of Hendrick Motorsports."

Martin will be done at Hendrick Motorsports after 2011, with Kasey Kahne taking over his ride, but there should be plenty of teams interested in securing his services for future seasons. He's one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen, and his age truly does not matter if he has the right machine to drive. Perhaps a swap with Kahne at Red Bull will end up happening.

Unique crew rules at Hendrick
Leave it to Chad Knaus to come up to an innovative approach to pit crews.

After some late-season pit woes on the #48 team, there will now be three total crews (18 crew members) brought to each track, to be used for the #48 car of Johnson, and the #88 car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. If they don't do so hot, someone is ready to step in. The #24 of Jeff Gordon and #5 of Mark Martin will work similarly, with 16 crew members available to the two cars.

Talk about incentive to perform. I have a feeling this will work, and pit performance will improve for he Hendrick team. And if it does, the other teams may end up copying this system (at least the bigger ones, who can afford it.)

Danica to Cup talk already?
Her second partial season in Nationwide hasn't even started, and there is already reports that some NASCAR teams are eyeing her for a future Cup ride.
One of the partners in Richard Petty Motorsports, which is coming back from the verge of extinction, said the team might be interested in getting Danica on board for the 2012 season, if the team expands from its current two-car lineup, and it also likes Clint Bowyer.

Hold up folks, we still need Danica to prove she can do something in a stock car before we start awarding her Cup rides ... I mean, it's not just about who's famous and a a name alone can't get you a ride, right? (note sarcasm)

NASCAR mania this month on SPEED
If you like NASCAR, you have nothing to complain about as far as TV goes for the next few weeks. Starting with this weekend's 24 hours of Daytona and Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale California, SPEED will have 100 hours of coverage during Speedweeks.

The big events include the Gatorade Duel races on Feb. 17, the Truck Series opener on Feb. 18, and an endless stream of practice and qualifying and more inbetween.
If you're a racing junkie like me, this is truly one of the best times of the year to be a fan.

Speaking of SPEED, it will broadcast a one-hour special called "The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt" on Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. The show will look back, 10 years later, at the day at Daytona in 2001 that forever changed racing. Whether you were at Daytona that day and saw it happen, as I unfortunately was (that tragedy ruined an otherwise great race), or just heard the terrible news at home after the race, it will surely be an emotional broadcast, and will also include the first interview in which Michael Waltrip, who won his first Cup race that day in a car owned by Earnhardt, will speak about Earnhardt's death.

Rusty reups
Speaking of TV, those who are fans are Rusty Wallace will be glad to know he has signed a new deal with ESPN that will keep him at the network through 2014. While he's not universally liked, most fans recognize that the former Cup champion has some insight into the sport, and offers valuable information while on the air. They could do much worse than Wallace.

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NASCAR changes everything but the kitchen sink ... here are the hits and misses

Everyone knew it was coming ... after a disappointing year in the ratings and race attendance, NASCAR had to shake things up to try and get more fans back watching on TV and coming to the tracks.

And after an endless stream of offseason rumors, the change has finally arrived ... and it was plentiful.

In case you missed anything, here's the rundown, and my humble view of whether it's a smart move or just plain silly.

-- Pick a series
Drivers can no longer run for a title in more than one series, which is a long overdue move that makes the Nationwide finally have its own identity again. Gone are the days of Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch winning a Nationwide title while in the Cup series full-time, and we can actually see the young NASCAR talent battle for the titles in the Nationwide and Truck series, which the Cup guys can still dabble and go for wins and money.

-- Qualifying adjustments
Another good move, to spice up the qualifying procedure, will be to set the order of qualifiers based on practice speeds, starting from slowest to the fastest. This means that when every driver goes out to qualify, there is a decent chance the pole speed will be broken, and the drama will go down to the last car on the track. This is better than the current setup, which has completely random and often lacks drama.

Even better, when qualifying is rained out, NASCAR will go back to practice speeds to determine the starting order. This is especially good news for people like Boris Said who try out for road courses where qualifying is often rained out. If he and other non-regulars are fast in practice, they will make the race. Beyond that, practice will take on new importance when rainout of qualifying is possible, as everyone will be working hard to get their best time in and not just tinkering in advance of the race.
These qualifying changes won't necessarily bring in new fans, but the current fans are more likely to care about this part of the weekend.

-- More manufacturer identity
Efforts are being made to distinguish the Cup cars so that manufacturer identity is more clear. This is a positive thing, and an extension of efforts similarly made in the Nationwide series in 2010. Fans don't want the cars to all look the same, so the more unique the better.

-- Chase "wild card"
The Chase will still have 12 drivers, but now only the top 10 in points will qualify automatically. The other two will be the two drivers in positions 11 to 20 in points that have the most wins but didn't make the top 10. This rewards the drivers who are good enough to win, but might have had some bad luck during the year (for example, Jamie McMurray in 2010). This does something I really like -- puts an extra incentive on winning, which might make drivers push a little harder as the race come to a close, creating more drama in the process. And as we all know, drama brings fans.

-- Simple points system
This is the only boneheaded move out of the bunch, in my estimation. The race winner will get 43 points, and the last-place driver gets 1 point ... this is the same for all three top NASCAR series. The winner gets 3 bonus points, plus there is a 1-point bonus for leading a lap, and a 1-point bonus for leading the most laps.
Brian France said the goal is to make the points "simple" so fans can understand the system.
"Many of our most loyal fans don't fully understand the points system we have used to date," he said. "So, we are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow."
When I hear this, it sounds like a parent talking to a small child, dumbing things down so the kid can understand. NASCAR fans are not kids though, and I don't like being talked to like a child.
The points system isn't the reason weren't watching. If the racing is good, they will watch. I understand that percentagewise, it's pretty close to the old system, but I just think it's a pointless and unnecessary change that doesn't really accomplish much.
And I can see where it may actually hurt competition, too. For example, if you're in fifth and racing for position, how hard are you going to really fight for just one measly point. (In the old system, point gaps were higher the closer you were to the front.)

Maybe I'll be proven wrong, but I don't see this system doing anything to improve NASCAR or attract more fans, and it's the only bad move I can see in the otherwise solid improvements made in this list of changes for 2011.

Driver views on the changes?
So what do drivers think of the changes.

Kasey Kahne, who will be driving for Red Bull Racing this year, said he thinks the changes will be positive:

"I like all of it. I think it's kind of similar to what we have now. The only differences are -- I think it's a little easier for the fan. It's easier for the fan in the grandstand to keep up with the points when things are close or to see where their favorite driver is in the points. I like it. Making the Chase -- I think wins is a big part of the sport still. NASCAR has really kept that a big part of the points and a big part of the Chase, which is good."

Michael Waltrip said it's a good start, but he wants to clarify even more aspects of the sport for the fans.

"I think we not only need to look at the points system but beyond that. Look at the tracks to make sure that people understand where pit road speed starts. You know if you look at the Dallas Cowboys new stadium that's the new standard. That's where the bar is set with those big video screens and all sorts of technology. That's where we need to head with our race tracks. We don't need a cone set up at the end of pit road saying that's where pit road speed begins, we need it either shot across digitally or it needs to be a big sign saying 'enter here - speed limit 45.' We need to show that so a fan in the stands can see those things. I think that is the direction we're going and this is just the first little step."

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“Simple” points system would be simply stupid; reward winning more instead

NASCAR is trying to get more fans in every way it can, but some ideas just aren’t so hot, and one of those is the rumored “simple” points system they would put in place.

It would allegedly be very basic … 43 points for the win, 42 for second, … etc … and 1 point for last place.

Apparently, NASCAR thinks that this change in how points are handed out would make fans come back to some degree. But they are wrong.

It makes no sense, and goes against the very concept of what a points system should do: Reward winning. If there is only one point between 1st and 2nd, why would you fight harder for the win. Instead of a one-point difference, there needs to be a huge difference between first and second. That way, the people who win will finish higher in points more easily.

This idea, if the reports are accurate, is just straight up silly. Instead of a whole new re-imagining of the points system, just leave the current one and add about 20 to 30 points more to the winner. That’s it. Under this scenario, I’m pretty sure Jamie McMurray, who won big races but didn’t perform great every week, would have made the Chase in 2010.

Winning is what matters. While the drivers might like that consistency gets you a championship, fans want drivers to win on their way to a title. Otherwise, it feels like a cheap title. It’s human nature; seeing a guy who finishes 6th every week win the title is boring. We would rather see the guy who wins 5 races in the Chase but finishes 20th in the other five take the trophy.

So I hope cooler heads prevail, and this radical “simpler” points system doesn’t go into place. There’s no need to dumb down the sport in an effort to get more fans. People can be dumb, but they’re not children, so don’t treat them that way. (I do, however, like some other proposed changes; such as allowing the 8 drivers with the most wins into the Chase, regardless of points position, then taking a few winless drivers who are high in points to round out the Chase field.)

The formula for NASCAR to get more viewers is simple: Make it about winning. If the drivers are racing harder for wins, the action will be better and more people will watch. End of story.

Another Wallace in the 500
I hope the spotters in the Cup series are on top of their game next month at Daytona … because here comes Steve Wallace.
Rusty’s son has long been known for finding the wall in the Nationwide series, but all kidding aside he is actually a decent driver when he decides to be. So when he jumps behind the wheel of the #77 Toyota (yes, those Penske points guarantee him a starting spot in the race), he’s going to make his debut in Cup in the Daytona 500.
He will be the fourth Wallace to race in the Daytona 500, following Rusty, Kenny and Mike.

"Starting my first Daytona 500 is definitely going to be the most exciting day of my career-make that my life-so far,” Wallace said. “It's something that every kid wanting to be a racer-including me-dreams of doing one day.

Rusty was excited for his son, saying: "This is a big event for all of us-for Steve, our team, our family and our sponsors," Wallace stated, "He's grown by leaps and bounds as a driver in the Nationwide Series over the last few years and we think he's ready for this opportunity. I really believe that the new pavement at Daytona is going to be a great equalizer among the teams. The cars will have a ton of grip and it's going to make handling a much smaller part of the equation.”

Bill Elliott to #09 car
On the opposite end of the spectrum is nearly four-decade veteran Bill Elliott, who is still at it and will race for the Phoenix Racing team at least 18 times this year. That opens up the #21 Wood Brothers car for Trevor Bayne, who will likely be able to run enough races to compete for Rookie of the Year, and should win that award easily.

Interesting stat: This is the first time in his career Elliott will start the season driving a Chevy, hard to believe after all these years in the business.
"It's big for us and big for Chevrolet to get Bill Elliott," owner James Finch said. "It's the first time in his career that he's committed to race a Chevrolet."

Elliott, who is testing the car this week at Daytona, said he's excited about the move to the team that won in 2009 with Brad Keselowski at Talladega.
"I think this will be a really good deal," he said. "James has really good race cars, and there's no doubt about the Hendrick equipment. After all, look at all the championships they've won."

Former driver stabbed
Former NASCAR driver and current engine supplier Joey Arrington (9 Cup starts) was seriously injured in a stabbing on Jan. 15. He was treated at the Martinsville Memorial Hospital for two stab wounds to his chest and later transported to Carillion Hospital in Roanoke Va. where he was treated and released. He told police his ex-girlfriend came to his home, which led to an altercation that resulted in the stabbing.

Best of luck in his recovery.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tony Stewart takes his scuffling Down Under; On-track action returning at Daytona, in California

You gotta love Tony Stewart. He can’t stop racing, and he can’t stop fighting either apparently.

It appears the NASCAR bad boy’s trip Down Under to race sprint cars got a little too exciting for local authorities.

At Sydney Speedway this weekend, Stewart was questioned by police, but not charged, after an altercation with another man, who was allegedly hit with a racing helmet by Stewart. Stewart was interviewed at a police station in Sydney, then released “pending further investigation”

More interesting is who the scuffle was with … allegedly Stewart was unhappy with the track conditions and was having a physical debate with the track’s co-owner.

Remind me to never nominate Stewart as ambassador to Australia if I ever become president.

Duno test goes well
Milka Duno’s test at Daytona in a Sheltra Motorsports car this week went well, as she was fifth fastest of all drivers testing, at 49.37 seconds (182.293 mph) in her Dodge.

So now that we know the car is fast, and she can do all right by herself, let’s see how see does on race day in a draft.

Bill Elliott firesuit, helmet for auction to help charity
Ford Customer Service Division’s Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation NASCAR Design Contest is auctioning the 2010 designed fire suit and helmet to raise additional support for a good cause.

Wood Brothers Racing and Bill Elliott are auctioning the “Fired Up for a Cure” fire suit and helmet from the 2010 NASCAR Design Contest to benefit JDRF. Designed by eight-year-old, Carson Luther of Wildwood, MO, the fire suit and helmet that Elliott wore at the NASCAR event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October will be awarded to the highest bidder, with all the proceeds going to JDRF.

To bid on either of the JDRF items, fans can visit to bid on the fire suit and to bid on the helmet. Both items will be up for auction through Friday, January 21, at 5p.m.

Preseason Thunder arrives at Daytona, and fans can take part
Teams will get their first chance of 2011 to test out their equipment and the new Daytona surface when Preseason Thunder arrives Jan. 20-22. The cars will be on track from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all three days.

Fans can join the fun by attending the NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest at Daytona – the companion event to on-track activity. Along with watching the testing for free, fans can enjoy three Fan Fest sessions in Daytona’s Sprint FANZONE – from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 20 and 5-7 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Among the offerings will be driver question-and-answer and autograph sessions. Fans also can watch each day’s testing at no cost, beginning at 9 a.m. Visit for more information on NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest at Daytona.

Toyota Speedway even set for Jan. 28-29
Michael Waltrip will serve as grand marshal for the upcoming 8th edition of Toyota All-Star Showdown -- set for January 28-29 at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, California.

This is an exciting short-track event that features an eclectic mix of drivers.

In addition to all the stars of NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East and West, the weekend marks the NASCAR debut of Travis Pastrana --- who’ll compete for the first time for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing, before embarking on his Nationwide series career.

Other drivers competing at the two-day All-Star event include Nationwide series driver Steve Wallace, as well as Max Gresham, Eric Holmes, Ryan Truex, D.J. Kennington, Bobby Santos, Burt Myers, Ty Dillon, Paulie Harraka, Patrick Long, David Mayhew, Brett Moffitt, Andrew Ranger, Greg Pursley, Auggie Vidovich and Darrell Wallace Jr. – many of whom are NASCAR stars of the future.

Tickets for this event are available at
or by calling (626) 358-1100.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brian Vickers happy to be back in a racecar; Duno trying stock cars

It’s been a while since Brian Vickers, who had to stop racing after a health scare in 2010, has been behind the wheel of a racecar. That changed Monday, when he ran some laps at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando (former host of a Truck Series and Indycar races). The good news for Vickers fans is he thoroughly enjoyed himself and appears ready for his return to the top series in NASCAR.

"Today was just a huge weight off of my shoulders. It felt damn good to get back in the car. Everything fit. Everything felt right. Everything was just the way I left it last May,” Vickers said after the test.

Vickers will have to shake off any doubts about his ability to return to the level of competition he had established prior to his illness, but he appears confident, and the Red Bull Racing team stands behind him. I believe it will be a process that might not be short, but there’s nothing like running up front and winning to make Vickers forget about last year and the time off – so you can bet he’ll do his best to do well right off the bat.

Finally, the Nationwide series will get its own identity
For the first time in many years, drivers will not be able to compete for two championships at the same time. This means a Nationwide champion will be crowned who isn’t also racing for the Sprint Cup.

I have long supported this notion, and am happy to see it become a reality. It gives the series its own identity, and prevents the Cup guys from dipping down a level to win a title, like many have done in recent years (as my non-NASCAR fan friends have often said; isn’t that like a MLB player competing in AAA and the major leagues at the same time? How is that fair?).

According to Kenny Wallace, the new NASCAR license forms say: "A driver will only be permitted to earn driver championship points in one (1) of the following three series: NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Please select the series in which you would like to accumulate driver championship points. "

I look forward to seeing Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Steven Wallace and other Nationwide full-timers battle for a title; the Cup guys will still visit and try to collect points and wins, but it’s nice to know they won’t steal the thunder from the series regulars come championship time.

It’s an overdue change that will make the series better. NASCAR will discuss this change, and probably some others, at a “competition update” on Jan. 21, which will be part of the "Preseason Thunder" Sprint Cup test session at Daytona International Speedway.

No rookies?
Well this is strange.

Currently, no driver is scheduled to run for Rookie of the Year in 2011. That’s a testament to how hard it is for younger guys to break through in the sport these days.

Heeere's Duno
Milka Duno, who has been referred to as a “moving chicane” in Indycar due to her knack of getting in the way of people by virtue of being so slow on track, will take part in the 2011 ARCA race at Daytona in February. She is currently testing the #63 Dodge Charger at Daytona for Sheltra Motorsports, and will attempt to qualify that car next month.

The team hinted that more information about Duno's 2011 season would become available in the next several weeks, so I’m guessing this isn’t a one-race deal. This is a team that won an ARCA championship last year, so the car will be fast. The question is: How will Duno do?

Duno has had some success in sports cars, at least when compared to her horrible Indycar efforts, so I hope she can catch on to stock cars quickly and avoid causing trouble for anyone in the race. With the cars so close and all that drafting going on at Daytona, the worst thing she can do is get in anyone’s way – as it could lead to a horrible wreck that impacts a lot of drivers.

Who knows, maybe she’ll shock the world and run well? I wouldn’t bet on it, but she’s got a chance to prove everyone – myself included – wrong and show that her past performance in Indycar doesn’t represent her true talent level. It will be interesting to watch.

New alliance
As the Furniture Row team and Regan Smith work toward being more competitive, they will be working in one area – the pit crew – with a more established team in Stewart-Haas Racing. The crew for Smith’s #78 car will be trained and employed by Stewart-Haas Racing this season. The #78 pit crew will be under the supervision of SHR pit crew coach Joe Piette, who also oversees the pit crews for Tony Stewart's #14 team and Ryan Newman's #39 team.

This leads me to think … could this be the start of something more? Will they work together more in the future and eventually merge? Just a thought.

Regan will get to test out his newly trained pit crew in the Bud Shootout on Feb. 12, which he now qualifies for since they added Rookie of the Year winners to the lineup.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Could Evernham consulting for Hendrick lead to more?

Ray Evernham was one of the masterminds behind the first great era at Hendrick Motorsports, when Jeff Gordon won multiple titles. Since then, he’s gone on to become a very rich man through his ventures as owner of Evernham Motorsports, as a broadcaster, and other projects.

As 2011 begins, he has begun a new chapter, stepping down from his TV job and becoming a consultant for Hendrick Companies – yep, that’s the same Hendrick he worked for before. The company Evernham will be consulting for oversees strategic initiatives for Hendrick’s businesses, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a way for Hendrick to have an ace crew chief in the hole in case his current crop fails to measure up.

Outside of Jimmie Johnson, the team didn’t live up to expectations in 2010, so it certainly can’t hurt to have someone like Evernham in the fold, ready to switch from his consulting role to a more hands-on role at the Cup level. Even if he doesn’t want to be a crew chief again, there are plenty of management roles he could fill with ease and probably have a positive impact.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m taking Evernham’s move out of context, but Rick Hendrick is a smart guy and I’m pretty sure he’s thinking the same thing I am.

The original Johnson starting new NASCAR team for son
Usually once a legend leaves a sport, you don’t see him again (Brett Favre being the exception of course).

But NASCAR fans might get to see a little more of Junior Johnson soon, as he is working on starting a new team for his 17-year-old son, Robert Johnson III, to run in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East, as well as several other late model races.

Junior Johnson epitomized NASCAR’s roots, with his bootlegging background and legendary career both as a driver and an extremely successful team owner for decades, so I’m glad to hear we’ll be seeing him involved more in the sport again. Who knows, maybe his genes passed down and his son can end up competing with that other Johnson someday.

Gordon DQed at Dakar
Robby Gordon’s time in the Dakar Rally has come to a swift end. After some mechanical issues cost him about 5 hours, he was disqualified from the rally.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

New faces like Sadler, Allgaier, Bayne and Wallace should compete for Nationwide title

It could be a whole new ballgame this year in the Nationwide series, if expected rules changes go into place before the season begins. Cup regulars Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski are planning to run full Nationwide seasons as of right now, but if the expected rules changes go into place, they won’t be eligible for the title.

So if the speculation is accurate, who will compete for the Nationwide title in 2011? A few names are early standouts before the first green flag even drops.

The Turner Motorsports team (formerly Braun Racing) will attempt to turn some heads this year, and take advantage of the move to crown a Nationwide-only regular as champ. Justin Allgaier and Reed Sorenson will run full-time, while Jason Leffler will drive most of the year (giving his ride to Kasey Kahne for 8 races). This team has some legitimate talents, especially Allgaier – who showed a lot of promise in 2010 and should run up front in 2011 if he gets the proper equipment.

Also trying to make a title run will be Trevor Bayne, the young driver who put on a great run while at Diamond Waltrip Racing in 2010, but was snatched up by Jack Roush when they couldn’t guarantee sponsorship for him. I’m not sure if Roush has the full year sponsored for him yet, but after he puts on a few good runs – which he should do, given the considerable talent he has shown in his short career so far – the sponsors will come, and Roush may end up battling for the title with Bayne. Another outside shot to compete up front regularly is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., another Roush driver who ended up 2010 on a strong note, though I don’t see him doing as well as Bayne.

A newcomer (or more accurately, a returner) to the Nationwide series in 2011 will be Elliott Sadler, who will drive for Kevin Harvick, Inc. This car has won races in the past, and Sadler is capable of winning races and competing for the title without a doubt. And Sadler is smart to do this rather than waste his time in a backmarker Cup car like he’s been doing recently.

One more outside shot for title contention, if he can quit wrecking his cars so often, is Steven Wallace. Sure, Rusty’s kid likes to bend up cars, but he’s getting a new crew chief that knows how to win. Doug Randolph has worked for RCR, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing and Petty Enterprises and won two Nationwide races in 2009 with Clint Bowyer.

This, of course, hinges on the rules change being announced, but I expect that announcement very shortly. It would be great for the series, which would finally get its own identity and not be Cup-lite. Keselowski, Edwards and other Cup drivers could compete for wins and money, and the guys making their way through the ranks in NASCAR could compete for a title – the way it used to be and the way it should be. I’m quite looking forward to it.

Robby running 8th at Dakar Rally
Robby Gordon is one of those drivers who loves racing so much, he can’t take a break. He’s currently in South America, racing his Hummer in the Dakar Rally, and is off to a decent start. Gordon finished the first stage Sunday in 8th position (407 drivers are competing). He completed a 138-mile course in just under two-and-a-half hours, about 11 minutes behind leader Carlos Sainz. If you want to keep an eye on Gordon as he completes the rally, visit, and, or check his Facebook or Twitter pages for daily recaps, photos and videos. A half-hour TV with highlights from the rally each day airs on Versus at 3:30 p.m. ET daily.

Congratulations to Kyle Busch
Sorry ladies, but Kyle Busch is officially taken.
He and girlfriend Samantha Sarcinella officially tied the knot on New Year’s Eve. Photos from the wedding were leaked to on Saturday, if you want to see the happy couple.

Will marriage calm him down and make him a more pleasant person and less aggressive driver? Well, I don’t really care if his personality changes, but I hope his driving style doesn’t. He’s one of the more fun drivers to watch in the sport.

I don’t think I have anything to worry about though; he’s still Kyle Busch and he still wants to win races … and I’m pretty confident he’ll continue to do that in 2011.

Congratulations to the newlyweds.

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