Blogs > Nascar: Beyond the Track

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame class … Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, and three question marks

The new nominees for the next class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame came out this week, and what will come out of it is up for debate.

Two things are certain: Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough are very deserving, based on their multiple titles and 80+ wins, and will both make it without question.

After that, it’s a crapshoot. The remaining nominees are: Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Jerry Cook, H. Clay Earles (1st time), Richie Evans, Tim Flock, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Dale Inman, Bobby Isaac (1st time), Fred Lorenzen, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Les Richter (1st time), Fireball Roberts, T. Wayne Robertson, Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Glen Wood, Leonard Wood (1st time)

Notable exceptions that were left off the list include Wendell Scott, the only black NASCAR driver who won a race and who faced so much adversity he should get in just on that basis alone. His story is truly inspirational and he’s a Hall of Famer in my mind whether he ever makes it or not. It’s a shame he’s not even nominated.

Also, mechanic Smokey Yunick rewrote the NASCAR rule book and set the stage for future generations in the sport, and it’s also a shame that he’s not nominated. He and Scott should have, at the very least, been on the ballot.

Getting back to the 23 that are nominated, if I had to pick 3 that will make it, I’ll go with: Fireball Roberts (a tremendous talent in the 1950s and 1960s prior to his tragic death), Raymond Parks (he helped create NASCAR and owned the first championship team – they have to include someone from that early era of the sport); and Dale Inman – (winner of eight NASCAR Cup championships as a crew chief, paved the way for today’s master crew chiefs.)

The Wood Brothers are worthy for all they’ve brought to the sport, but how do you pick just one to induct? They might split their vote and lose out, but either one would be a good choice.

I fully recognize that all the nominees are worthy of entry to the Hall, and there are some wild cards like modified-legend Richie Evans who are bound to get some votes and could upset the apple cart.

The bottom line: The first couple classes were easy, but now it gets tough after all the biggest names have already made it in and everyone’s on a more level playing field. And next year, they better put Wendell and Smokey on the list of nominees if they have any sense of history.

Former garage of NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick burns to ground
A piece of NASCAR history died this week when the final portion of the garage formerly owned by Smokey Yunick burned to the ground in Daytona Beach.
The “Best Damn Garage in Town,” as Smokey so humbly put it, burst into flames about
7 p.m. Monday and is gone.

Those fans who don’t know who Smokey Yunick is are unaware of an important part of the sport’s history – when the mechanic was king and there was no COT. One of the highlights of my career is running into Smokey in the garage during the 1998 Brickyard 400 weekend, and having a nice chat with him and fellow legend Dave Marcis.

Talking to Smokey, who was arguably the best mechanic in the sport’s history and a thorn in Big Bill France’s side because he got around the rules so much (probably part of the reason he isn’t nominated for the Hall), I heard some great stories about a time that the sport was a lot different than it is now. The cars looked like cars, the drivers weren’t a bunch of superstars reciting a list of sponsors and keeping their image clean, and mechanics like Smokey could actually tinker with the car since there weren’t 500 templates to fit. Yunick-built cars carried Marvin Panch and Fireball Roberts to Daytona 500 victories in 1961 and '63.

Yunick made significant inventions for the automobile and racing industries -- including variable-ratio power steering and the extended tip spark plug, a design used in most vehicles today. His garage was an icon in Daytona Beach and one of the places where the sport began to make its mark so many decades ago, and while it was out of Smokey’s hands even before his 2001 death, it’s still a shame to see it go.

According to fire officials, smoke was so thick at times the fire trucks battling the blaze couldn't be seen through the plumes.
Department spokesman Lt. Larry Stoney said: "We're fighting this from outside. It's going to be difficult to figure out the cause of the fire."

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

DEI honors Dale Earnhardt’s memory once again on Friday

This Friday, April 29, marks Dale Earnhardt Day at the DEI Facilities in Mooresville, N.C.

This annual event is held on Big E’s birthday each year, and is meant for fans of the NASCAR legend – who is possibly the greatest driver of all time and definitely the most beloved – to get a chance to remember his career and honor his accomplishments.
A new painting of Earnhardt will be unveiled at the event this year, and there will be anunveiling of the 2011 "Intimidator" Camaros – one of which will raffled off in a fundraiser.

Music will come from "Eddy Francis & Freight Train", and there will be an encore showing of the 2003 Dale Earnhardt Tribute Concert Film. Autograph Sessions will feature oldest son Kerry Earnhardt and daughter Taylor Earnhardt.
The event runs 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday. Admission is free, and for more info, visit

Unique hobby for Lally
Some drivers, including Clint Bowyer took the off-weekend as a chance to go to the beach and soak in some sun.

Meanwhile, #71 TRG Motorsports driver Andy Lally was busy sweating in another way – as he fought in a mixed martial arts event in Georgia on April 23.
The COPA America Submission Grappling Championship features no punching or kicking, and instead competitors are scored on throws, takedowns, sweeps, reversals, knee on chest, mount, pass guard, rear mount and advantages for near points or near submissions.

Lally said that a lot of training was needed before he took part in the event.
"I train at Creighton MMA in Georgia," Lally said.

"I've got some incredible instructors that I train with every day when I am home. I've been training at an MMA gym for a while with my primary focus being Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It's a great cardio workout and it's something I've been interested in for a long time. I'm a big fan of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and competitive fighting. Aside from expanding my training, maybe I can find some time in the off season to give it a try on an amateur level for fun. For now, tournaments like these are what I'll look forward to. A bunch of guys I train with will be there as well, so it should be a fun day. Kevin has been good with me for all the years we've been together as far as understanding that I get bored easily and can't just jog on a treadmill to stay fit. I have lots of little goals in life and although I know my primary focus is NASCAR, I still feel like there are things that I will kick myself if I don't try. There is always a risk for injury in a lot of things I do, but I will try to be smart and stay out of trouble. I want to be a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt some day and competing helps continue to drive me to be better."

Brian Keselowski returns
After some time off for emergency gallbladder surgery, Rochester Hills native Brian Keselowski will be back at Richmond and beyond trying to qualify his tiny team into the races.

It’s been a rough year for the team ever since its emotional entry into the Daytona 500, but Brian hopes to get back on the right track now that his medical issues have been resolved.

Plans so far are for Keselowski to drive Richmond, Darlington and Dover … and I wish him luck, because I know what success at NASCAR's top level would mean to him.

Tommy Baldwin trying to compete
Dave Blaney had a great Talladega run, and that was validation for the improved efforts by Tommy Baldwin Racing this season. Formerly a regular start-and-park team, TBR has run all but one race this year and will continue to do so as long as sponsorship allows.

It would be nice to see the team find proper funding, and they can be the model on which other start-and-parks build as they grow into teams that can actually afford to race fully each weekend. It will not be easy, but I would like to see it happen.

Blaney says: “We are going to go to all of them, no doubt. It's just when you get there, can you swing racing hard all day. That's the question. We have [raced hard] every race this year and hopefully can keep that going."

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

Jeff Burton sticking around; implications for Austin Dillon

Despite his rough 2011 so far, Jeff Burton isn’t going anywhere. He recently signed a multi-year extension with Richard Childress Racing, which leads me to think that alternate plans will needed for young Austin Dillon. I always pictured him taking over the 31 car from Burton in the near future and driving for his grandfather.
With Kevin Harvick, Burton, Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard likely to stay put for a while, Childress may have to farm out his grandson to a smaller team whenever he does make the move to Cup. Or who knows, maybe Bowyer or Menard will be gone in a couple years – that’s his only shot, as I don’t see Harvick or Burton giving up their rides anytime soon.
Whatever happens, I’m pretty sure Childress has a plan for the up-and-coming young superstar in his family.

FR9 gets another win
The year continues to be bright for Ford’s FR9 engine, which earned another victory this past weekend at Nashville when Carl Edwards won the Nationwide race.

The victory at Nashville was Edwards' second of the season and 31st of his career in the series. This ties him for fourth all time with the legendary Jack Ingram. Roush Fenway's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne also finished in the top 10 with the Roush Yates FR9 engines.

"I have to give credit to [car owner] Jack Roush, to Ford, [engine builder] Doug Yates, [crew chief] Mike Beam, the guys at the shop. It looked like we were facing some insurmountable challenges, and they worked hard and got these cars better," Edwards said.

Edwards led five times for 148 laps and held off (second place) Kyle Busch to the checkered flag by .521 seconds. Edwards drove past Busch with 35 laps to go after a heated battle.

"Carl really put on a show," said Roush Yates CEO Doug Yates. "It was just awesome to see him take command and hold off Kyle at the end. The (FR9) ran strong all race. We are so pleased with the way the Roush Fenway programs have come together this year," he added. "Jack really appears to be giving all his Cup and Nationwide teams opportunities to win on any given race day. As the engine builder Roush Yates is proud to be a part of (RFR's) overall performance equation."

Bowyer on the rise
After a tough start, Clint Bowyer has skyrocketed from 24th to 10th in points, and has scored more points in the past four races than any other driver.
He said his rise in the points is a weight off his shoulders, and hopes to keep it up.

“A month ago I was worried, very much so,” he said this week. “But at the end of the day the reality was it's still way early in the season, still is even today. But with the new points system and everything that's happening around that, you really don't know where you're at. You think you do, but things will shake out. I think the cream is going to rise to the top, no different than it ever has. It's still early in the season, but it feels good to be able to get on a little bit of a roll here, and hopefully we can continue to ride that wave. “

Richmond Stats
-- Originally known as the Atlantic Rural Exposition Fairgrounds, Richmond International Raceway held its first race in 1946 as a half-mile dirt track.
-- The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was April 19, 1953.
-- The spring 1964 race was run on a Tuesday night under temporary lighting
-- The track name changed to Virginia State Fairgrounds in 1967.
-- The track surface was changed from dirt to asphalt between races in 1968.
-- The track name changed to Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway in 1969.
-- The first race under permanent lights was Sept. 7, 1991.
-- The first season with both races as night races was 1999.
-- There have been 48 different pole winners, led by Bobby Allison and Richard Petty (eight).
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Terry Labonte (three) lead active race winners.
-- Car owner Richard Petty has won 15 races at Richmond, more than any other team.
-- The furthest back in the field a race winner has started was 31st, by Clint Bowyer in 2008’s spring race.
-- Kyle Petty became the first third-generation NASCAR race winner when he won his first race, at Richmond, on Feb. 23, 1986. Richard Petty posted his first Richmond victory in 1961 and Lee won the very first Richmond race in 1953.
-- Five of the last six races have had a margin of victory less than one second.

Stats: Dodge at Richmond
-- Dodge has 17 Sprint Cup wins at Richmond including three since the manufacturer returned to NASCAR’s premier series in 2001.
-- Lee Petty drove a Dodge to victory in the first NASCAR race at Richmond in1953, a 200-lap event on what was then a .5-mile dirt track.
-- Dodge winners in addition to Petty include Buck Baker, David Pearson, Cotton Owens, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Dave Marcis, Neil Bonnett, Ryan Newman, Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne.
-- Kurt Busch won the fall event in 2005 prior to joining the Penske Racing and the Dodge family. He was runner-up at the fall event in 2009.

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

Full lineup of events planned around All-Star race

A number of fan-friendly events are planned in the leadup to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

“NASCAR Rev’d Up” is a six-hour event highlighted by a concert. The event, which is free to the public, takes place Wednesday, May 18, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte from 4 to 10 p.m. The program will feature driver appearances, NASCAR showcars and interactive displays, and culminate with a free concert starring multi-platinum country artist Gary Allan and country artist Josh Kelley.

Also, the seventh annual NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman will take place Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Arena (SPEED to televise on delayed basis beginning at 8 p.m.). This competition is between the top 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pit crews and has become a popular event. The event’s finishing order determines pit selection for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

Here’s a full schedule of events for all-star week:
-- Wednesday, May 18, 4-10 p.m. at the NASCAR Hall of Fame – “NASCAR Rev’d Up” featuring a concert and interactive fan entertainment (free admission).
-- Wednesday, May 18, 6 p.m. at the NASCAR Hall of Fame – NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Dinner. Email for table tickets.
-- Thursday, May 19, 7 p.m., Time Warner Cable Arena – NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman (for tickets go to or call the Charlotte Bobcats ticket office at 800-745-3000) – SPEED to televise.
-- Friday, May 20, NASCAR Day – Plans for NASCAR Day activities will include local activities at numerous NASCAR race tracks around the country. NASCAR Day is an annual charitable celebration that unifies the NASCAR community to better the lives of children. Limited-edition NASCAR Day pins are available and support the mission of Victory Junction. The pins are available for a $10 donation at The Sprint Experience at-track and at WWW.NASCAR.COM/foundation.
-- Friday, May 20, 5 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Qualifying (for tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or log onto – SPEED to televise.
-- Friday, May 20, 8 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 (for tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or – SPEED to televise.
-- Saturday, May 21, 7:30 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – Sprint Showdown (top-two finishers qualify for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race). For tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or – SPEED to televise.
-- Saturday, May 21, 9 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (for tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or – SPEED to televise.
-- Sunday, May 22, NASCAR Hall of Fame – NASCAR Hall of Fame Fan Fest & Walk of Fame Unveiling. Time TBD.
-- Monday, May 23, 7 p.m., NASCAR Hall of Fame – 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Bobby Allison, Bud Moore, Lee Petty, David Pearson and Ned Jarrett are officially inducted as the second class. The Induction Ceremony is open to the public. The historic event takes place in the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom, which is connected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be purchased through Ticketmaster or by calling 800-745-3000.
-- You can also keep up to date with all the week’s events by following @NASCAR on Twitter (Hashtag: #SprintAllStar) and logging onto

Race Fans Can Register to Win a Corvette, Trip to Le Mans
DETROIT – Race fans can enter for a chance to win a 2012 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible and a trip to Le Mans, France, for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans by entering the “Race To Win Corvette” promotion at now through June 30, 2011.

“‘Race to Win Corvette’ is a tremendous opportunity for a race fan to win one of the most iconic sports cars ever produced, and watch it compete in the oldest and most famous endurance race in the world,” said Terry Dolan, Manager, Chevy Racing. “Team Chevy is proud to partner with the American Le Mans Series, AutoWeek, Michelin and Mobil 1 to help make this racing experience a reality.”

See official rules for details at

What Time is the Race? There’s Now an App for That

Asheville, NC – SpeedWeekly Magazine, "Your Racing News Source," is living up its billing by providing auto racing fans with a free Android app for the most popular auto racing television schedules. The app includes the start time and network of every nationally-televised race in eight different race series. A similar app for the Apple iPhone will soon be available.

The free app, available for download from the Android Market on your phone or by visiting, provides the schedules for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, along with the complete schedules for ARCA, IndyCar, Formula One, Grand Am and American LeMans. The app premieres during NASCAR's SpeedWeeks, the week leading up to the Daytona 500.

"This new SpeedWeekly app is a major advancement for race fans on the go," said Rick Bradham, Publisher of SpeedWeekly Magazine. "Other Apps may offer TV information about a specific network or racing series, but ours is the first to cover all nationally-televised races for eight of the world's most popular auto racing series."

The user-friendly app allows fans to select a series and date and find the name of the race, the track, the start time, and the network televising the race. After each race, the name of the winning driver will replace the start time and network on the app.

"Whether fans are on the road, in a different time zone, or just away from their computers, they can easily find the start time and network for all their favorite races. This exclusive new app puts the power of a complete program guide in the palm of your hand," said Bradham.

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bring back the pack: New style of plate racing lessens excitement at Talladega

Records are a funny thing … just because they are broken, that doesn’t mean the fans got a better show.

Take, for example, the race Sunday at Talladega. There were 88 lead changes recorded at the start/finish line, which ties a record set last April at Talladega. Also, the finish was decided by .002 seconds, tying a record set in 2003 in Darlington when Ricky Craven barely beating Kurt Busch at the line in an all-time-great finish.

But with this new two-by-two racing style that has developed at Talladega, despite these records falling, I felt pretty underwhelmed after the race. Other than the final dozen laps or so, which were pretty entertaining and led to the dramatic and ultra-close finish, I just couldn’t get into the race.

This is in large part because I’m not a fan of the new style of racing on restrictor plate tracks. Pack racing was what everyone loved at the plate tracks, and when you go from that to 2-by-2 racing, it’s a big dropoff in excitement.

Before anyone suggests it, I don’t think pack racing is better than the new style because I like big wrecks and that becomes more likely. In fact, I’d be cool with a race with zero wrecks if the racing was exciting all day, and have even advocated in the past that there has to be some other way for NASCAR to slow the cars down at Daytona and Talladega that doesn’t involve restrictor plates so they aren’t bunched up.

My main thing is I want to see real competition, and that’s what the pack-style racing at Talladega and Daytona brought. With the 2-by-2 style, you get a lot of lead changes, which on paper would have you thinking the race was exciting, but in reality, it’s more like a game and the numbers mean less.

Two guys link up and get real fast, then they have to swap places and lose momentum in the process, so another duo takes the lead … repeat, repeat, repeat. That’s where all the lead changes come in.

Other than at the very end of the race, you don’t see nearly as much of the exciting three-wide and four-wide battles for the lead that used to make Talladega such a thrill to watch.

The bottom line is that I used to look forward with great anticipation to Talladega, and that is no longer the case after seeing this new style of racing on the track. I recognize that there may be some fans of this new style of racing, but I’m sure a lot of people agree with me on this one. While this race may have been decided by only 0.002 seconds and tied the record for lead changes, overall it was nowhere near as exciting to watch as the Talladega races of the past, and left me disappointed.

Drivers weigh in on new style of plate racing
Drivers had various views on the new style of restrictor plate racing.

Mark Martin said he actually enjoyed it … which is strange since he has never been a fan of plate racing in general.

Ryan Newman called it “different”.

And other drivers, including Joey Logano, were not fans of the 2-by-2 style.

"I would rather be in a bigger pack. At one point we just got off each other just to save our race cars and save our bumpers."

Matt Kenseth said it presents a new set of challenges.

“Ever since I’ve been coming to Talladega or watching Talladega, every time you interview somebody that has crashed they’re like, ‘Oh, this racing is terrible. Somebody is gonna get hurt.’ I mean, it’s been the same thing, but it’s different. Before, at least you can kind of control your own destiny and you can draft a little bit. Here, if you don’t have a car locked on you and shoving you, or vice versa, you’re gonna get lapped in 15-20 laps and it’s really hard.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a fan of the old style.
“Over the long haul, man, (the 2-car draft) is not the best. It is not as good as 40 dudes in one pack racin' like hell tryin' to get to the front. It is nowhere near as good as that. Give me that any day over this.”

Jeff Gordon said that regardless of what fans or drivers think, the style is here to stay.
"We can't change this two-car draft. You cannot take something that you've learned and take technology, engineering and just experience and throw it in the trash. … That's the evolution of aerodynamics of our sport and what we've learned. So that is here to stay. Is it different? Is it unique? Yes. But, it is here to stay. Like it or not, it isn't going anywhere."

Kurt Busch a one-man wrecking crew
One driver who has yet to perfect his execution of this new racing style is Kurt Busch, who was busy Sunday wrecking quite a few cars – including his teammate Brad Keselowski.

He apologized after the race for the damage he had inflicted.
“Restrictor plate racing and this two-car draft is really tough and I was in the middle of a bunch of incidents. I feel bad for wrecking a bunch of cars, especially my teammate Brad (Keselowski).”

Brad, however, wasn’t too offended, and said it was just a product of restrictor plate racing.

”It was just one of those Talladega deals. We were able to get our Dodges together and drive our way up to the front. We made some great moves, but got towards the back in the shuffle and when we did, we caught a big group that just stopped for some reason. I heard that David Ragan blew up, I’m not exactly sure. We ran up on the group and I just wasn’t able to stop quick enough with Kurt on my tail and it just spun me right out. Just one of them deals here at Talladega. It’s just racing. I just got on the wrong end of it. (Kurt) could of maybe checked up earlier, but it happens so quick that it’s really hard to judge sometimes.”

Hendrick dominates qualifying
Speaking of records, the qualifying session at Talladega was dominated by one team – Hendrick Motorsports – with all four team drivers occupying the top four spots (and, as it turned out, finishing the race pretty well too, in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 8th).

To put the qualifying feat in perspective, prior to this weekend it had only happened twice in the entire history of NASCAR:
-- Jack Roush claimed the top 4 spots at California in 2005 (Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle)
-- Before that, it had been a while. Owner Pete DePaolo actually claimed the top FIVE positions at Concord, N.C., in 1956 (Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Ralph Moody and Bill Amick).

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushes Johnson to the win at Talladega, gets a souvenir

Dale Earnhardt Jr. may not have won the race at Talladega, but he has a lot of reasons to smile this year … and Sunday was a continuation of his much-improved 2011.

For the first time in his Hendrick Motorsports tenure, he is running up front on a regular basis. And at Talladega, he pushed teammate Jimmie Johnson to the very narrow win, got a top-5 finish and moved up to 3rd in points – just 19 points behind leader Carl Edwards and 14 points behind Johnson, who sits in 2nd.

Jimmie was very appreciative after the race, and immediately gave Earnhardt the checkered flag.
“Just came to mind,” Johnson said. “I handed it to him and he said, ‘Man, I don't want that’. I said, ‘Well, I have to give you something for the push and working with me.’ He said, ‘No, that's what teammates do.’ ”

This is the kind of attitude that will lead to Earnhardt eventually breaking his winless streak, which now stands at 100. We in the media will constantly remind the fans how long it’s been since Jr. took a checkered flag, but he is wise not to obsess about that. He has seen this year that the Hendrick equipment he is driving is capable of winning, and if he keeps running up front, he will eventually win and he should make the Chase.

So as he heads into the off-week sitting higher in the points than he’s been in what seems like forever, Jr. should not be hanging his head, despite his winless streak. As the saying goes, you can’t change the past but you can change the future … and his results this year show that future has the potential to be very bright.

Joe Nemechek and Dave Blaney … what could have been
It turned out that Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson won the races this weekend, but it could’ve been a whole lot more interesting. Saturday in the Nationwide race, Joe Nemechek had a great race and contended until the end and finished 3rd. Then on Sunday Dave Blaney … who has had to start-and-park regularly in recent years … was leading with just laps to go.

He ended up falling back and not capitalizing on his great run, but it just goes to show that just because a driver ends up a backmarker team and might start-and-park some, that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to contend for wins – especially at an equal-opportunity track like Talladega. Blaney and Nemechek may not be where they used to be in their careers, but both are still quality racers who did a great job this weekend.

"It was a really good day,” Blaney said after the race. “Our car was just so fast being pushed. It was amazing. Just didn't get it in the right spot at the right time. I guess now it is just a morale booster. It could have been good, a really nice accomplishment for a little team. But, we'll take all the good we can out of it and go."

The sordid tale of Brian France
In a divorce tale that continues to grow ever more sordid, NASCAR chairman Brian France has sued ex-wife Megan France, claiming she tried to extort him for “substantial sums of money”. He accuses her of tape recording telephone conversations between the two, then threatening to release them if the money is not paid.

While it’s none of my business what went on between these two in their marriage, one question pops into my mind … what could be so bad on these tapes that she could even use them against France? In my opinion, France is only making himself look guilty of something by bringing this lawsuit – as it brings this issue into the public and begs the question … what did he say on the phone calls that has him so worried?

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he’s going to win a lot of races … and it actually sounds believable

Unless my ears were deceiving me, I think I heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. say something very interesting on TV after his 2nd place run at Martinsville.

The line was: “We’re going to win a bunch of these races.”

And he sounded like he meant it, for good reason. He had just come within a few laps of winning his first race in almost three years. And it wasn’t the first time this year that he has been up front, evidenced by his current 8th place position in the standings.
Much of that, of course, can be attributed to his new crew chief, Steve Letarte, who was paired with Jr. for the first time after an offseason crew chief swap at Hendrick Motorsports between Dale Jr., Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.

As much as a driver can get a team to Victory Lane, it’s also essential that the driver works well with his crew chief … when this happens, good finishes and even wins come more naturally.

Following his near-win, Dale was very complimentary of his new crew chief – giving him most of the credit for their great finish.

“We only got there through the strategy that Steve had staying out. Caught a bunch of guys a lap down, out of sequence on pit stops,” Earnhardt said. “So all of the credit really goes to Steve for the finish we had today and the team for really kind of plugging away and making the adjustments, even though some might not have worked as good as others. We still needed to make some effort, put some effort into making the car better and those guys kept going all day long.”

For the legion of Jr. Nation out there, seeing him bump-and-run past Kyle Busch to take the lead with 20 laps to go must have been an awesome sight. And even though there was no guarantee that it would result in a win, and ultimately it did not happen, the way Jr. finished Sunday is significant – because it symbolizes that he is returning to his old form.

Newer fans might not realize this, but the son of NASCAR’s most popular driver of all time actually used to win races quite regularly when he was with DEI – he won quite a few, believe it or not. I swear I’m not making that up.
So while on one hand I was surprised to see Jr. up front at the end, at the same time it served as a reminder to us longtime fans that underneath this slumping driver there lies someone who can compete like he used to.

One key to winning, and contending for titles, is making good days out of bad ones. That’s what happened to Jr. on Sunday.
“We really were not a Top 5 car all day. We worked really hard to stay inside the Top 10 all day,” Jr. said. “Made a lot of changes on the car, we made several changes trying to find that speed.

At the end, Jr. probably could have dumped Harvick to take the win, but didn’t want to be “the bad guy” just to get the win (though I doubt Busch or Harvick would have been as nice).

Since it’s been a while since he tasted victory, Jr. was especially eager to take the flag first.

“I was thinking at the end that I was meant to win that damn race. Hell, I'm not sitting there leading that thing by seven car lengths thinking I'm about to lose. That's definitely not a good attitude to have at that point. I was definitely thinking I need to do what I think's right every corner and try and win this race. I've got a hell of an opportunity right here and if I can put together decent laps, I might be able to keep the distance I had on him which was only about three or four car lengths. But I just couldn't do it. I made some mistakes in the corners and the back end of the car was giving up on me a little bit.”

“We had an opportunity to win the race. I'm disappointed that I didn't get the job done and it will probably bother me more and more as the night goes on. But I'll probably think about it a million times what I probably could have done differently.”
The good news for Jr. is that despite losing the race, he can realistically talk about contending regularly and making the Chase for the first time in a while.

“We gained a lot of points on some guys that were around us today. The 4 and the 56 had some trouble. We just need to try to put some distance on some guys and get ourselves the opportunity to be in the Chase when the time is up. Steve is a good crew chief and he's going to give me more opportunities like this I feel.”

Despite his strong start to 2011, Jr. isn’t getting too high on himself and recognizes that he has a lot of improvement to make if he’s going to be a true contender..

“Well, I ain't really proved it to myself yet. I'll let you know when I feel like I'm back, personally. Anyone that watched that race today knows that we weren't a second place race car or even a third place race car all day. We never were up there to prove that point. So there's no argument. We got some work to do still, and you know, we are faster, we are more competitive than last year. But we still got a little ways to go.”

“This is such a great group to be around, and I'm having fun. I'm racing cars. It's all I've ever wanted to do. I want to run like this. I want to finish like this and run a little bit better than this on every weekend, and we are right on the outside of that. But there's definitely a brighter side to what's going on, too, and I won't forget to notice that.”

Whether Jr. actually wins a lot of races remains to be seen, but I know one thing – the fact that he say that with a straight face is a good sign for the future.

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

Here we go again … tire woes likely in Martinsville race; Mark Martin to start No. 800

It’s been a rough year for Goodyear, and the bad news keeps on coming.

At Martinsville, there is concern that the surface is not rubbering in. Drivers are reporting extreme wear in about 30 laps. On a half-mile track, that’s not good and is a recipe for a lot of blown tires, accidents, caution laps and pitting for tires.

“It is pretty disappointing,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said about the situation. “Just hopefully we can figure out what is wrong; why the tires aren’t as good as they should be and get it fixed.”

Unlike the Bristol weekend, when a new tire was brought in, this weekend NASCAR and Goodyear are sticking with what they have, which could mean a long and dangerous race on Sunday.

"Right now there's one groove,” Kyle Busch said on Saturday. “If you run on the inside down the straightaway, you're running through marbles. If you run on the outside in the corners, you're running through marbles. There's only one particular lane that you're not running through balls of rubber then you just slide in the next corner. As soon as you get into the next corner you might as well just park it because you're just going to go through the corner. I don't see it getting any better tomorrow. Anything could surprise us, but I doubt it."

When asked if NASCAR would have to throw competition cautions due to the tire issue, Busch said: "We'll just wreck each other so we'll make our own cautions. I don't think we'll have to throw cautions because we're
blowing tires or anything like that. We'll wreck ourselves. There's going to be a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of beat up fenders."

NASCAR officials insist this isn’t as bad of a situation as Bristol, and I hope they are right. The last thing I want to see is the race winner being the only guy who doesn’t blow a tire, or a race with an endless amount of pit stops.

Mark Martin reaches major milestone
Congratulations to Mark Martin on his 800th start, which will come this weekend at Martinsville.

He joins an elite list of drivers by reaching this number, and has indicated he has no intention of ending his career at the conclusion of 2011.

Anyone who has watched NASCAR for any length of time can’t help but like and respect Mark Martin, who is widely viewed as the best current driver never to claim a title in the Cup series (he’s been 2nd five times). And though it’s still possible he could achieve that goal before really retiring (after a few false starts), whether he does or not won’t change the fact that he’s one of the all-time greats.
With 40 victories, 264 top fives and 429 top 10s, that’s not a statement that can be debated.

"I've had a really good 799 starts. We've had a lot of wins, a lot of success and a lot of fun. I've made friends out here that will be friends forever, and I can't imagine anything else I would have rather been doing than racing all of those days,” Martin said. “Beyond the stat itself or the records or whatever, it's the experiences of it all that are the most important to me."

He now trails only: Richard Petty (1,185), Ricky Rudd (906), Dave Marcis (883), Terry Labonte (870), Kyle Petty (829), Bill Elliott (825), and Darrell Waltrip (809), on the list of starts … If he keeps racing for a while, he could pass everyone but Petty.

Here are some key races in Martin’s career:
1 – On April 5, 1981, Martin made his first series start at North Wilkesboro Speedway, finishing 27th. Martin made five starts in 1981, scoring two top 10s and two poles.
6 – In his first Daytona 500, on Feb. 14, 1982, he finished 30th.
58 – On Feb. 14, 1988 in the Daytona 500, Martin made his first start with owner Jack Roush. Together, they started 617 races, winning 35 of them.
100 – On June 25, 1989, at Michigan International Speedway, Martin made milestone start No. 100. He finished 12th.
113 – On Oct. 22, 1989, at North Carolina Speedway (Rockingham), Martin led 101 laps en route to his first career win.
200 – On Oct. 25, 1992, at Rockingham, Martin made milestone start No. 200. He finished 30th.
223 – Martin reached double digits in wins with a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 28, 1993. The win was the third of four consecutive victories for Martin, the longest win streak of his career.
300 – On March 31, 1996, at Bristol, Martin made milestone start No. 300. He finished third.
326 – Finished seventh in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16, 1997, his 16th-consecutive top-10 finish, dating back to the previous season. That is tied for the 16th-longest streak in series history.
383 – In a victory at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 20, 1998, Martin led 379 laps, the most of his career.
400 – On May 2, 1999, at Auto Club Speedway, Martin made milestone start No. 400. He finished 38th.
500 – Reached career milestone start No. 500 on March 24, 2002 at Bristol. He finished 11th.
506 – Won NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 (then named the Coca-Cola Racing Family 600) at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2002.
600 – On Nov. 7, 2004, at Phoenix International Raceway, Martin made milestone start No. 600. He finished 15th.
700 – On Feb. 25, 2008, at Auto Club Speedway, Martin made milestone start No. 700. He finished 16th.
723 – On Feb. 15, 2009 at the Daytona 500, made his first start for Hendrick Motorsports, finishing 16th.
730 – At the age of 50 years, three months and nine days, Martin won at Phoenix on April 18, 2009, to join Harry Gant, Morgan Shepherd and Bobby Allison as the fourth over-50 driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
733 – Won one of NASCAR’s crown jewels: the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 9, 2009.

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond

Wow … someone actually beat Kyle Busch; and KB teams with Formula 1 superstar

If you watched Saturday’s Truck series race, you saw a rare site … A Truck series regular, Johnny Sauter, made a late-race pass on Kyle Busch – yes, that same Kyle Busch who usually drives away from the competition – and won the race.

Busch wasn’t too happy, but I’m guessing he’s the only one with that view. Instead of seeing him pick on the regulars in these lower series, we finally saw the reverse. It may have been a fluke, and likely had something to do with the tire issues this weekend, but I was very happy to see it. It gives hope to those Nationwide and Truck series regulars, who may have wondered if they could ever beat Kyle Busch again.

More KB news … teaming with F1 star Kimi Raikonnen
Speaking of Kyle Busch, he’s about to have a very high-profile driver in his trucks. Kimi Raikonnen, who has won a Formula 1 championship but left that series last year to go over to World Rally racing, will debut in a truck at Charlotte in May.
Initially, there were reports Raikonnen would work with a team connected to Foster Gillette, but that led some people, including Ray Evernham, to question his sanity – considering the long list of failed sports ventures in the recent past for the Gillette family. Thankfully, it appears this rumor was false, and instead Kyle’s team will provide the hardware for Kimi to drive in several races this year.

Anyone who has watched Formula 1 knows Raikonnen doesn’t have a very dynamic personality, but can get it done on the racetrack – which is what counts the most. It’s pretty surprising to hear he is interested in NASCAR, and I never thought I’d see him in the Truck series or any stock car for that matter, but he picked a good team to go with – Busch’s trucks are usually up front even when he’s not in them.

I’m not sure what is behind the interest from overseas from people like Raikonnen and Nelson Piquet Jr. Maybe they see Juan Pablo Montoya doing well and think they can do the same. Regardless of the reason, it’s further proof that despite the feelings of many snooty race fans who look down on NASCAR, us simple Americans do offer some competitive racing that is worth the talents of the world’s best.

Oddly enough, the Kyle Busch deal came out without any interaction between the two drivers.

"Agents -- that's how it came about. I have yet to speak to Kimi (Raikkonen) myself. Apparently there's an interest in him that he wants to run in NASCAR. He's shopped it around to quite a few teams and apparently we won the war. It's exciting for us at Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Busch said. “Kimi, from what I understand, was real adamant about trying to work with me and our teams and being able to put a deal together to go out there and try to get him success in NASCAR. With our trucks, the way we've been running this year, he felt like that was a good place for him to come."
Busch said there is potential for worldwide interest in this partnership.
“I think it does lend some worldwide exposure. I think with a guy being as talented and as good as he's been in the realms of motorsports that he's competed in -- certainly I would like to expect that he runs well here in NASCAR as well. Maybe this could lend to a longer relationship than just a few races."

Busch said Raikkonen is bringing sponsorship for the races he is competing in, and there are plans for 3-5 races – Charlotte being the only confirmed one. Busch said that based on his past performances in racing, Raikonnen should adapt quickly to NASCAR.

" I have a little bit more belief in Kimi Raikkonen that he's got the talent to do it. I've seen him race Formula 1 -- he's obviously a world champion over there. He's done real well in the Rally stuff. I can't see why he wouldn't be successful in our equipment."

Other drivers, including Jeff Gordon, agree that Raikonnen should be able to adapt well.
“I think the Rally cars that he’s been driving probably give him more experience or get him better-prepared to come over here to this series than any of his Formula One cars that he’s ever driven. The last thing you want to do is to try to get one of these cars feel like a Formula One car or hope that maybe one day you can, because you never will,” Gordon said. “So I’d just tell him to be patient and try to stay in the best equipment that he can and try to go out there and follow the guys that are going fast to learn the lines and the braking points at each of the tracks that he goes to. That would be the quickest way I think to learn and adapt and be competitive.”

Stewart not worried about points
Tony Stewart calls it like he sees it. So when he was asked about the new points system and how it affects his racing, he let his feelings be known: He doesn’t care.
“I don’t even worry about it Bud. I look at where I am at and I go to the next race. Everybody wants to analyze it. Nobody is worrying about it but you guys. You guys are the only ones that ask any questions about it. We don’t care. It is what it is. We know what it is to start with,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t matter whether we like it or dislike it. This is what we have got. I don’t think anybody has complaints. I don’t think anybody cares really right now. You go out and try to win races and get as many points each week as you can. It’s not…it doesn’t matter whether we tell we like it or dislike it. Nobody is going to change it, right? So why are we talking about it? It doesn’t matter.”

Menard hopes to keep streak going
Heading into Martinsville, Paul Menard has a unique streak going – he has a career-best finish at all the tracks he has visited in 2011. He hopes to keep that up this weekend.
“Sure as hell going to try. We have had fast race cars but the neat thing is that at four of the five races we felt like we could have finished better than where we did. We finished 16th at California and we probably would have finished 9th or around there if we didn’t have a caution towards the end. We got shuffled back in those last two restarts but it’s just luck of the draw and everything is so close in Sprint Cup racing that a few tenths of a second and one tenth, goes a long ways. In Martinsville you are going to see the whole field covered by three or four tenths and it doesn’t take much to shuffle back and it seems like it takes a lot to go forward. I think we finished 13th here last year and we will try to improve on that for sure.”

In the past, Menard has had to listen to people talk about how he only had a ride because of his dad’s sponsorship, but he said that even if people thing that, it’s nothing that worries him.
“You know, people are always going to talk about it. Which is fine, let them talk. I am confident in who I am and what I do so if they want to bring it up, then shame on them I guess.”

TRG moves to Ford
There is a new member of the Ford family – TRG Motorsports and the #71 car. After running Chevys for three years, owner Kevin Buckler will switch to Ford starting at Texas next week.
"We are really excited about the partnership with Roush Yates Engines and it will be an outstanding improvement for our team," said Buckler. "We are confident that fielding the FR9 engine program will add to the success of our organization and the competitiveness of our performance on the race track."
The addition of the TRG Motorsports machine will bring the Ford count at each race up to 11 cars.

Mustang ’5.0 Fever’ sweepstakes
For the fourth year in a row, Ford Customer Service Division brands Motorcraft, Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center and will give away a Mustang to one lucky winner. This year’s contest has already kicked off, and the Grand Prize package includes a 2012 Ford Mustang GT (maximum MSRP $29,995) with $5,000 in Ford Racing Performance Parts and Ford Custom Accessories. Fans age 18 years and older are invited to enter at the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Experience at select NHRA Full Throttle Series events, online at and, or by texting FORDNHRA to 57682 through Nov. 21, 2011. The winner will be chosen by random drawing.

“Ford consumers are passionate about the brand, from purchase to maintenance, and that passion gets passed down,” said Brett Wheatley, Director of Marketing, Ford Customer Service Division. “We see fans from all generations stopping by at our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Experience display. We’re proud to see them experience Ford’s latest products, and happy to give one winner a new Ford Mustang GT.”
Follow the contest on Facebook (Motorcraft and Quick Lane Racing) and Twitter (MQL_Racing) for the latest updates.

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond