Friday, December 28, 2007

Roundup of random thoughts, events

Has anybody ever figured out what a new "Lang Syne" looks like?

* * *

The second annual Legends Helping Legends fund-raiser is set for Saturday, Jan. 19 at the Memory Lane museum in Mooresville.

This year's beneficiary will be 1983-84 Busch Series champion Sam Ard, who is battling Alzheimer's Disease. Last year's event raised money to help pay medical bills for longtime racing announcer Bill Connell.

More than 50 racers and other celebrities were there at last year's event, signing autographs and swapping stories with fans. At least that many are expected for this year's event.

Admission is $8 and that includes a tour of the museum's more than 150 vintage racing and other vehicles. The museum is at 769 River Highway in Mooresville, about 1.5 miles west of Interstate 77 off exit 77. Go to for details.

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Speed is gearing up to provide almost daily updates of NASCAR's testing season in January. It plans 22 half-hour shows beginning Jan. 7 leading right up to its 100-plus hours of coverage of SpeedWeeks from Daytona.

Speed will have shows Jan. 7-11, Jan. 14-17 and Jan 21-22 from Cup, Truck and Nationwide series testing from Daytona. It will then air 30-minute recaps of each day's activities on the Sprint/Lowe's Motor Speedway media tour on Jan. 23-25. It will be at tests in Las Vegas on Jan. 28-30 and at California Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Then, Speed will do its team previews Feb. 4-6.

Each of those shows airs at 7 p.m. John Roberts will anchor the testing shows.

* * *

The Station Casinos in Las Vegas have Jimmie Johnson as a 4-1 pick to win the 2008 Sprint Cup title, with Jeff Gordon at 9-2 odds. Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are each 8-1 and Tony Stewart is 10-1. One longer shot that looked tempting to me was Kyle Busch at 22-1.

I don't know how they make odds, but I was thinking the other day about how you'd handicap which manufacturer might produce the champion this year. With Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick and the Richard Childress Racing teams also in Chevrolets, you have to make Chevy the favorite, but by how much?

I came up with this, doing it by percentages. I'd say there's a 40 percent chance this year's champion will drive a Chevrolet. With Joe Gibbs Racing in Toyotas, I'll say Toyota is the second choice at 25 percent, then Ford with the Roush Fenway Racing drivers at 20 percent. Dodge would be 15 percent in my preseason forecast. The Penske guys, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, could do it but Kasey Kahne would really have to have a dramatic rebound to be a factor. He's 38-1 in Vegas, by the way. Juan Pablo Montoya is 75-1.

* * *

It might not be on TV like Barrett-Jackson, but there will be a major auction of sports cars and race cars Jan. 19-20 at the Cabarrus Arena in concord.

Among the items on the block will be racing equipment from Richard Childress Racing and Bill Davis Racing as well as other NASCAR teams. Also for sale will be more than 50 low mileage 2006 and 2007 Hertz Shelby GT-H Mustang coupes and convertibles.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

NASCAR drivers fare poorly on Autosport list

Autosport is a British magazine that covers motorsports on a worldwide basis. The people who work for it know far more about what's going on around the wide, wide world of racing than I ever will.

I know that a guy like me who has seen one Formula One race live and probably has seen a total of three minutes of World Rally Championship competition on television in his life has no standing when it comes to ranking the world's best drivers. That's why I don't - and won't - try to do it.

Autosport, however, does. The magazine is out with its list of the world's top-50 drivers for 2007 and it should surprise no one that F1 drivers dominate the rankings.

But 12 of the top 18? Twelve?

F1 champ Kimi Raikkonen is first, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. World Rally drivers Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb follow in the top five.

OK, here's where I think these blokes get a little wacky.

Jenson Button, who finished 15th in the F1 standings, is sixth. The rationale, apparently, is that Button had junk (by F1 standards) to drive this year and did a decent job in it.

Dario Franchitti, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series winner, is seventh, followed by IndyCar runner-up Scott Dixon.

Does it occur to anybody that there's a name that ought to be at least somewhere along here in this part of the list - at the very least?

Jimmie Johnson won 10 races and the Nextel Cup championship. There's no question that he beat better competition in his form of U.S. auto racing than Franchitti did. But even if you give Franchitti points for winning America's most significant single race, doesn't Johnson have to be ahead of Dixon?

Johnson, though, is 20th. That's right, 20th.

OK, I know Europeans think NASCAR uses "saloon cars," dinosaurs in terms of technology. I know that they look at American sport the way we look at soccer and rugby and cricket, as curiosities. I know that American writers would tend, perhaps, to give NASCAR drivers more credit that perhaps might be deserved should one of us make such a list.

But the two-time defending champion of America's top series is 20th, behind the third-place guy in IndyCars (Tony Kanaan in 16th)? Jarno Trulli, ranked 17th, finsihed 13 in F1. He wouldn't have even made the Chase for the F1 Cup!

Jeff Gordon is 25th, two spots behind Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais, however, will drive in F1 in 2008.

Want to bet he suddenly moves way up on next year's list while Franchitti, who's coming to NASCAR, plummets?

Matt Kenseth is 36th and joins Johnson and Gordon as the only NASCAR drivers in the rankings.

Any list like this is subjective, of course, but if there was any way you could prove to me that there are 50 people racing in the world today who're all better than Tony Stewart, I will eat a copy of every page of every issue of Autosport magazine ever published.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More from the racing offseason

The last time Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Pruett were teammates for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Montoya bumped Pruett out of the way on his way to winning a NASCAR Busch Series race in Mexico City.

That won't happen at the 2008 Rolex 24 at Daytona because Montoya and Pruett will be sharing the same car along with Dario Franchitti and Memo Rojas in America's premiere endurance event.

Montoya, Pruett, Franchitti and Rojas will drive the No. 01 Ganassi-owned car in the race on Jan. 26-27.

Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, who drive for Ganassi in the IndyCar Series, will drive the No. 02 Daytona prototype along with Salvador Duran and Alex Lloyd as the team looks to make history with a third-straight overall title in the race.

Montoya, Pruett and Doran won the overall title in 2007. Dixon, Wheldon and Casey Mears were the overall winners in 2006.
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One lucky race fan will be get two tickets to every race during Daytona's Speedweeks and will participate in the victory lane celebration following the 50th running of the Daytona 500 after being chosen as the "Mayor" of Speedweeks.

To campaign for this post, fans must tell Daytona International Speedway "in 100 words or less" why they should be selected. Essays may be mailed to:
Mayor of Speedweeks
c/o Daytona International Speedway
P.O. Box 2801
Daytona Beach, FL, 32120
Entries also can be emailed to or dropped off at the Daytona 500 Experience. Fans can also get information on-line at

The entry deadline is Jan. 7.
In addition to tickets to all Daytona races, including the Rolex 24, the winner will wave the green flag for the first Rolex 24 practice session to officially kick off Speedweeks and participate in other prerace and postrace activities at the track.
- - -
Mike Wallace will still drive the No. 7 car sponsored by Geico insurance in 2008, but he'll be driving Toyotas for Germain Racing.

"We are very proud to have GEICO and Mike Wallace join our race team," said Mike Hillman Sr., general manager of Germain Racing.

Wallace is just back from Los Angeles, where he was working on more commercials featuring his nephew, aspiring racer Lauren Wallace.
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Mitchell Stimpson, who drove street stock cars at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, was shot and killed in his home in Yadkin County last week.

Stimpson's daughter, Lauren, discovered her father's body after the shooting. Her mother died of cancer recently as well, leaving the 13-year-old without both parents.

Members of the racing community have started a trust fund at Wachovia bank branches to help Lauren Stimpson. Donations can be made to the Lauren M. Stimpson trust at Wachovia branches.
- - -
Bobby Hamilton Racing and Arrington Manufacturing have formed a partnership that will lead to the relocation of the team from Mount Juliet, Tenn., to North Carolina. The team was formerly owned by Hamilton, who passed away in January.

BHR will continue to be run daily by Lori Hamilton with AMI management group. It will also continue to field the No. 4 and the No. 18 Dodges in the Craftsman Truck Series.

"This partnership allows us to grow for the future," Lori Hamilton said. "In the past few months, we realized how vital it is to our future success to be located closer to NASCAR and its community. Joey Arrington has always been a team player for our organization. Bobby always valued his knowledge and experience in the sport. It is a natural fit for our organizations to work together and take this team to another level."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Could Busch series prosper without big names?

Catching up with stuff I'm falling behind on...

Carl Edwards collected $1,218,597 from the points fund for winning this year's Busch Series championship at Friday night's banquet, bringing his total winnings for 2007 in that series to $2,485,582.

That's not the $15 million plus Jimmie Johnson won for winning the Nextel Cup title, but it's nice money. David Reutimann got $714,350 in points money for finishing second, and the top 10 drivers in the final standings all won more than $1 million in total earnings this year.

Some fans are tired of seeing guys like Edwards, who is also of course one of the sport's top Cup drivers, come in to what the fans see as a proving ground for young drivers and cherry-picking off the big money.

But one track president thinks it needs to be pointed out that the reason that big money is there in the first place is that drivers with the kind of notoriety that Edwards are competing in the series.

"If the (Busch) Series wants to run in front of big crowds, on national television and for big purses, you have to have names people recognize and want to see," said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. "There was a time when drivers like Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton were racing in (Busch) Series events with stands capable of holding 8,000 people and paying total purses of $100,000. They were learning their craft and making their name."

Gossage compared it to seeing Bruce Springsteen play earlier in his career in front of 1,000 in some small venue in New Jersey. He said NASCAR needs to decide what it wants the series that will be called the Nationwide Series beginning next year to be.

"If they want it to be major league, they have to have names that will cause people to buy tickets and television networks to televise the races," Gossage said. "...Or they can go back to being a minor-league series and run at 6,000 to 8,000 seat speedways for $100,000."

The man makes a heck of a point.

Coca-Cola has extended its marketing partnership with NASCAR through 2017, which means that it's not about to roll over now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a deal with Pepsi brands. Look for Coke Zero to have a bigger presence in the sport as part of the new deal. Coke also has a new 10-year deal for pouring rights at International Speedway Corporation's tracks, and that will include naming rights to July's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at Daytona.

Three of the six men elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's 2008 class have strong NASCAR ties. Red Byron was the first champion in the strictly stock (now Sprint Cup) series in 1949. Everett "Cotton" Owens won more than 100 modified races in the 1950s and then became one of stock car racing's great team owners. And Ralph Seagraves helped begin R.J. Reynolds Tobacco's long-time involvement in motorsports sponsorships. Also elected were Art Arfons, who set the land speed record three times and worked for five decades in drag and powerboat racing; drag racing legend Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, who is known as the father of the National Hot Rod Association's pro stock series, and Frank Kurtis, whose Kurtis-Kraft company produced some of the greatest midget race cars ever built.

The Chili Bowl from Tulsa, Okla., one of the great events in all of motorsports and the highlight of the winter months, will be available for viewers on pay-per-view for the first time this year. The Jan. 12 event brings in around 250 midget cars to compete indoors. Tony Stewart is the defending champion and he and Kasey Kahne are expected to be among this year's entrants. It will be shown on HBO Pay-Per-View, beginning at 8 p.m. Ordering information is available at Viewers will need digital cable or satellite service to order, but you don't have to have HBO to get the telecast.

Tommy Johnson Sr. does his best to keep me up to date with stuff going on in the National Hot Rod Association, especially when it involves his family.

Johnson's son, Tommy Jr., got some big news this week when drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein announced he would step out as a driver in a funny car sponsored by Monster Energy Drink and Lucas Oil and put Tommy Johnson Jr. in that ride.

Bernstein, a six-time champion in top fuel, drove the funny car last year and planned to drive it again in 2008.

"I was only contemplating driving one more year," Bernstein said, "but when Tommy became available at the end of the '07 season, we started to give the situation a lot of thought. ... I guess we can always look to win one more race or one more championship, but in reality, I've had a great career and many talented crewmembers who have helped mold my success through the years. For me at this stage of my life, the right decision is to step away from the cockpit."

Johnson has NHRA victories in funny car and top fuel. Next year, he will compete against his wife, Melanie Troxel, who is making the move from top fuel to funny cars in 2008.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nationwide Series car? Here's a spoiler

Catching up, in a midweek sort of way:

  • A Nationwide Series crew chief told us on the Sirius NASCAR Radio show I do weekday mornings that some teams have already been given previews of what the new car for that series is going to look like. The Nationwide car will be built on the same chassis as the Cup Series car of tomorrow, but the bodies will be different. And, at least right now, the Nationwide cars will have spoilers and not wings. The new car will be in use in the Nationwide Series in 2009.
  • The season's final Cup statistics are done and the top 49 drivers in points all won at least $1 million. The top 42 all won at least $2 million. Bill Elliott was the sport's first $2 million man back in 1985 when he won the $1 million bonus from Winston and took home $2,383,186 as the runner-up to Darrell Waltrip, who was the first champion to top $1 million with $1,318,375 that same year.
  • Jimmie Johnson won twice as many races this year as he did last year and repeated as champion. But he won more money in 2006 -- about $560,000 more. A big reason for that is that he won the Daytona 500, NASCAR's richest race, in 2006.
  • When the space shuttle Atlantis goes up Thursday, it will carry three racing flags. When those flags come back to earth, one of them will be given to winner of the Daytona 500, the Daytona 500 Experience (formerly Daytona USA) will keep one and NASA will keep one.
  • I gripe about travel a lot, I know, but I have to admit I sort of enjoy the game of trying to get around the country to cover NASCAR races without spending any more of the company's money than I really need to. You find a decent hotel room about five miles from the track for a race next fall, on the side of the speedway away from which most of the traffic comes in, for $71 a night. You reserve a car for two weeks out of the Orlando airport for half what it would cost if you rented from another company that's basically under them same corporate umbrella. It's annoying, though, when you can buy an airline ticket for a trip to Las Vegas that connects through an airport for $300, then come back and try to buy a ticket to get off the plane in that same airport for a race there and they want $500. It costs $200 more to NOT keep going? How does that make sense?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

NASCAR Champions Week comes to an end

Friday, 11:45 p.m.

NEW YORK CITY -- A few final thoughts and comments from NASCAR Champions Week in New York City.

--I'll write more about this in my Sunday column for the Observer, but I didn't think this year's Nextel Cup awards ceremony was terrible. In fact, I thought it had several really nice moments.
The drivers' speeches were still pretty much lifeless, but it's hard to thank everybody you need to thank and get in anything resembling humor or real emotion in the time they're allotted.
I am all for the idea of shortening the proceedings, and for the second straight year they got it all in in under 3 1/2 hours. But in streamlining things they've cut into the time spent on the champion and his team. I think that's wrong.
There's no way the championship crew chief's speech should be part of the Thursday luncheon and not the Friday ceremony itself, for instance. And I still say the crew members from the winning team should have seats right down front, on the floor, instead of way up in the third balcony.

--Before David Spade tried to tell jokes at the ceremony, nobody had died this year in Nextel Cup. Here's how bad it was. Tom Brokaw, the former NBC News anchorman, did a very moving tribute to the late Bill France Jr. and other people in NASCAR who had died in the past year and HE was funnier doing that than Spade was.

--Speaking of Spade, you reckon it was a coincidence that a sizable portion of one of his routines consisted of jokes about Las Vegas? That's where Bruton Smith -- and others within the sport -- say they'd like to see the champions celebration moved to.

--I thought Dr. Jerry Punch did a nice job as host. He kept things moving and didn't needlessly inject himself into the proceedings.

--Kelly Clarkson has sold 11 million records. For the sake of the customers who bought them, I hope she sounded better on each of them than she did in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Friday night.

--No, I didn't get into the presidential suite this week. Jimmie Johnson said that might happen in the wee hours of Saturday morning near the end of the post-banquet champion's party, but I wasn't there when the party started, much less when it ended. I had to come write a story and file this blog. Plus, I'm old.

--One of the best things that happens to a Cup Series champion is he gets from Goodyear that is a 1/12th scale model of his race car made in 24-karat gold. It's a stunning trophy, done in remarkable detail. Goodyear hosts a reception before the banquet begins and the car is on display there. Every driver looks at it and sees some little thing reproduced inside the cockpit that only he'd notice. It's just a remarkable piece.

--A couple of NASCAR's public relations representatives spent much of their week in New York City chewing out people in the media over stories they've written or done recently, complaining about the media being too negative about the sport. What NASCAR ought to be worried about is how fewer and fewer media outlets are not only no longer sending people to New York to cover the banquet, they're cutting out their NASCAR beats all together and letting wire services provide what lesser coverage they're allocating to the sport.

--Is it possible to have a chapped face? I know it's a cliche but the way the winds blow down in these canyons between the buildings up here it seems like you're always walking uphill and into the wind, especially when it's blowing cold.

--The Rockerfeller Center Christmas tree seems to have a preponderance of blue lights on it this year. I don't know if that's by design or not. It's just an observation. I've walked past it six or eight times since they lit it up Wednesday night and that's the first thing that hit me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Awards, parties set my mind reeling

Thursday 11:15 p.m.

NEW YORK CITY -- The strangest stuff gets me thinking.
I'll bet I walked two miles today. That's a lot of for an old fat man like me. I walked to the Sirius studio before sun up, then back to the hotel. I did take a cab over to the Myers Brothers luncheon because I was running late, but I walked back. Then I walked back to Sirius for "Tony Stewart Live," then down past the Waldorf-Astoria to a party (more about that in a minute).
On the way back from there, I walked about eight or 10 blocks and everywhere you looked there was trash. Not stuff strewn about, but stacks of bagged garbage waiting to be picked up.
On the street where my hotel is, the trucks were starting to make their pickups and I started wondering how many people spend pretty much every night of the week just collecting and removing trash and taking it off this island.
I told you it was strange.
I hate I missed the start of the Myers Brothers Awards program because I wasn't there in time to see Robert Yates get the Buddy Shuman Award. That award recognizes someone for long-time contributions to racing, and the folks who pick the winner each year have a knack for making outstanding selections.
Yates was a tremendous choice. The former engine-building genius who retired after the 2007 season as a car owner gave much of his heart, much of his life and much of his soul to the sport.

It was also great to see my friend, Don Miller, win the inaugural Home Depot Humanitarian Awards.
Miller started Stocks for Tots in 1989 and, with a lot of help from a lot of great people, more than $400,000 and 40,000 toys have been raised on behalf of the Stop Child Abuse Now network in the history of the event held each December in Mooresville.
How does Miller get dozens of NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs, officials and other people connected to the sport to give up a night each year to sign autographs for fans and help assemble huge amounts of memorabilia to be auctioned to raise money? He asks, and people respect him enough to say yes.
The award came with a $100,000 check, which will go a long way toward helping a cause Miller feels passionately about.
By the way, Stocks for Tots this year is set for Dec. 11.

Betty Jane France graciously accepted the Myers Brothers Award that was given to her late husband, Bill France Jr., and that got me thinking, too. This has to be hard week for the France family. Having the awards ceremony in New York City was Bill Jr.'s big idea, and he loved having it here. He thought it gave the sport the kind of recognition it deserved.
I saw Lesa France Kennedy for a minute at the luncheon but didn't get to speak to her. It's the first time I've seen her since her husband, Bruce, was killed in a plane crash this summer. I know she misses him every day, but being here as the holiday season begins must be very difficult, too.
I understand NASCAR has asked the drivers who'll be speaking at the awards ceremony tonight to address any condolences they make to the France family, rather than having 10 drivers specifically mention Bill Jr. and Bruce so the family has to sit through that all night. I think that's smart. There will be a tribute to the folks the sport lost this year built into the program, I hear.

After the "Stewie Awards" show at Sirius, I walked to a club that Dale Earnhardt Inc. rented for a reception for the media. I finally found the place after walking down the wrong street for several blocks and walked over to get a soda.
While I was waiting on it, I saw Karen Bruce, the wife of NASCAR Scene writer Kenny Bruce, sitting down. So when I got my soda, I walked toward her. She was talking to someone who had her back to me, so I tried to lean in and shake Karen's hand and sort of brushed past the person sitting with her.
Teresa Earnhardt.
OK, so after apologizing for that and feeling like an idiot for about 15 minutes, I worked my way back through the crowd to speak to Teresa again. She couldn't have been more gracious. The entire evening was "off the record," and that was fine. I asked her about her daughter, Taylor, whom I haven't seen for several years. Taylor and my stepdaughter, Emily, are about the same age. It's the kind of thing that happens during banquet week in New York that makes it worth coming up here.

I left to come back. Most people who came by the DEI party had another stop to make. Sprint hosts a big, BIG party late Thursday night each year at a club called the Marquis, and it's rapidly becoming quite legendary. It usually doesn't really get started until around 11 p.m., but I've got a radio show in the morning at 7.
Speaking of which, good night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No one knows how many New Yorkers are watching

Wednesday afternoon, 4:15 p.m.

NEW YORK CITY - The first order of business for NASCAR on Wednesday in New York City was to see how many people 10 stock cars could annoy at one time.

OK, maybe that's not quite fair. There were a lot of fans, far more than I would have ever expected, wearing NASCAR gear and braving the cold to see the top-10 drivers in the final Nextel Cup standings take their "Victory Lap" through and around Times Square.

ABC gave the event really short shrift on its "Good Morning America" show, spending most of the last half-hour rehashing Helio Castroneves' win in the "Dancing with the Stars" competition instead.

But as the drivers went about 1.5 miles around the normally busy streets right in the heart of New York City's midtown, a lot of people were watching. Many of them were, at least apparently, NASCAR fans because of all the stuff they were wearing. Many more were just curious onlookers, wondering what in the heck was going on.

Somebody from NASCAR said that 150,000 people watched the cars drive on such famous streets as Broadway and Madison Avenue. I don't know how you would begin to estimate a crowd for that event. I completly accept the fact that at least that many - probably a lot more - were in the general area as it all was happening.

People who actually were in or around what amounted to a parade said lots of folks dressed in normal business attire were stopping to take photos with their cell phones. At least some of those photos, I'll bet, were taken to serve as excuses as for why someone was late for work.

I cannot even begin to imagine how many permits and excpetions and whatever you want to call them it takes for NASCAR to pull that thing off.

The "Victory Lap" was followed by a breakfast event inside the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square. NASCAR is trying to involve the fans more in Champions Week activities, and that's good.

It ought to do a lot more in that regard, though.

It doesn't matter to me where the awards ceremony is held as much as it does that the way its staged now send the wrong message.

The banquet itself is Friday night in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, and if a fan off the street tried to get in there he'd be wrestled to the ground.

The banquet, with its black-tie dress code, comes off as being all about who can and can't get in.

It absolutely ought to more about letting fans - the people NASCAR tells everybody make the sport what it is - be a part of the celebration of the year that just passed.

And why aren't the Busch and Truck series champions being honored along with Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on Friday night? Why do those series have their own banquets, events that don't get nearly as much attention?

Shouldn't Carl Edwards get more attention for winning the Busch Series than somebody will for finishing 10th in Cup points? I certainly think so.

Anyway, after the deal at the Hard Rock, more media gathered at the 21 Club for a luncheon with champion Jimmie Johnson.

He was telling me the story of what happened to him Thanksgiving weekend when he went to see the Oklahoma Sooners play a football game. Johnson's wife, Chandra, is a big Sooners fan and they know people who are connected to the football team.

So after the Sooners beat Oklahoma State, Johnson follows the team off the field through the cheering crowds into the locker room. The players are celebrating the big win that got them into the Big 12 championship game and having a great time. Johnson is just taking all of this in until someone introduces him to the team.

"These guys go nuts," Johnson said. "I just sort of gave them a thumbs up and one guy, No. 25, came over and grabbed me by the arm."

According to a roster on internet, that would be senior defensive back D.J. Wolfe.

"He pulls me into the middle of their huddle and they're all jumping up and down and I am in there getting all banged around," Johnson said.

"It was awesome."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Presidential suite or bust!

NEW YORK -- Jimmie Johnson is off and running during Champions Week.

He appeared on "LIVE with Regis and Kelly" on Monday, because he's a NASCAR driver and apparently that's the law. I actually don't any stock car driver who sets foot on the Manhattan island is allowed to leave until he goes on that show.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus also rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange Monday afternoon. That's fitting, because the whole reason for having this event here is commerce, and Wall Street is the mother church of commerce.

Tuesday, he's supposed to be on a bunch of other shows including Rachel Ray's show. Of all those types of shows, I think Rachel Ray's show is the most grounded in reality. You can watch her cook something and actually conceive of the remote possibility that you might be able to come relatively close to making yourself.

I made it to my hotel room about 12:30 a.m. I was in one of those 11-passenger shuttle vans and myself and one other young lady were the first two picked up. After about six more stops we were fully loaded. I offered to let the lady take the front seat but she declined, so I jumped all over it.

As we were going to all of those stops, we kept passing these impossibly long lines for taxis. I was glad I'd made the choice I made. Apparently my flight wasn't the only one delayed for three hours or so.

It was raining and a really nasty night. But our driver was remarkably sane and safe, for which I was thankful. He actually let a couple of people in line ahead of him.

I was also incredibly grateful that I was the second one who got dropped off. Goodness knows how long it was before that 11th person got to where he or she was going.

It was nice this morning. The rain had moved out and it was breezy, but it was in the upper 50s at 6 a.m. as I walked over toward the Sirius studios to do the radio show this morning. I expect it will cool off as the day goes on, but what do I know about weather?

My goal for the rest of the day is simple. I want to get inside the presidential suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, where Jimmie Johnson gets to stay this week. This is the 11th year I've been to the NASCAR awards ceremony activities and I know a lot of people who've been invited into what's a very historic place. I've never gotten that nod, and as of now I am openly campaigning for it.

At LaGuardia with my guard up

11 p.m. Monday.

Ah, the glamor of air travel.

I was due at LaGuardia at 7:45 p.m. Right now, I have just got to the shuttle line to go into the city.

Fog everywhere. I came close to rebooking for Tuesday, but it's a better story for later this way.

Can't wait for the ride in. I'd say it's 50-50 my room hasn't been given away. More Tuesday.

Monday, November 26, 2007

If you can make it there

I am supposed to be in New York City for NASCAR Nextel Cup Champions Week by about 8 p.m.

I say supposed to be because there were big delays at LaGuardia airport because of low ceilings this morning, as well as some delays in Charlotte, too. Maybe some of that will be worked out by the time I am supposed to leave at 5:45 p.m., but we'll see.

Every year when this week comes, I try to make sure my patience chip is pushed all the way in as I head toward New York. I try to arrive late afternoon so I can go into the city when most people are coming out, but there's only so much room on the Manhattan island.

I never really expected to be in the hotel much before 10 p.m. anyway, and I just hope it's not too much later than that.

There are many things about New York that I do enjoy. It's a fun place to be this time of the year, once you actually get where you're going. I dread the trip in and the trip out, though, probably a whole lot more than I should. I reckon that's the small-town guy in me reminding me how out of place I am in a place so big.

I'll try to do at least a blog or two each day this week about the stuff that goes on during the week leading up to Friday's banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria. Who knows, there might actually be some news coming out of what goes on between now and then.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ray Evernham says he will cut back and change his course

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – A few minutes before the final practice session of the 2007 Nextel Cup season begins, Ray Evernham is standing behind Elliott Sadler’s hauler, leaning on a stack of tires.

Over the long, rich history of stock-car racing, a lot of profound and important things have been said by people leaning on a stack of tires. It’s not quite like a confessional booth or a psychiatrist’s couch, but it seems to have a similar affect.

Very early this year, I found Evernham late one afternoon in the garage at Las Vegas and asked him about a man named George Gillett. I’d heard that Gillett was interested in buying a piece of Evernham’s team and wanted to see whether that was true or not.

Some car owners (many of them, truth be told) would have acted like I was speaking Chinese and pretended they knew not of what I was speaking. Publicity might kill a deal, they’d worry.

So they’d either dodge the question or outright lie about it.

Not Evernham. He told me that he and Gillett were talking, that Gillett would be coming to the track that weekend and that he hoped he and Gillett would be able to make a deal.

Several months later, they made that deal. The team was renamed Gillett Evernham Motorsports, and Evernham started telling everybody that meant he was going to have less and less to do with running the team he bought from Bill Elliott. He would, instead, go back to spending more time working on the team’s cars and trying to make them go faster than they have been during what has been a difficult season.

He won three championships by figuring out things like that back when he worked with Jeff Gordon at HendrickMotorsports, and he missed that part of it. What he has found, however, is that not even that has been enough to fill up the hole he has been feeling.

“I am burned out, I guess,” Evernham said. Everybody’s burned out at the end of a long NASCAR season, even a car owner with three teams who hasn’t been able to get one to victory lane after Kasey Kahne won six times last year.

But this is different. This is Ray Evernham, the man who lived and breathed racing when he ran Gordon’s No. 24 team. The man who left that job and started his own team, his own major league sports franchise, and helped Dodge come back into the sport. The man to whom Chad Knaus, who has emerged as the sport’s most highly regarded crew chief while working with Jimmie Johnson, is most often compared.

“I am going to cut way back next year,” he said. How far back? “I don’t know if I will be at more than 10 races next year.”

Evernham glances at his watch. He’s waiting for a telephone call. His father is sick and in the hospital and his mother is upset. Evernham has decided to fly home tonight to be with his parents.

He’s got people to run the teams. Gillett has people who’ll run the business. Evernham will be around, but his plan is to cede control in away that never seemed possible for a man who has always been considered the prototype of a “control freak.”

“I will probably tell them what I think is wrong,” Evernham said.“But I don’t plan on caring whether they listen or not.”

Evernham said he wants to spend more time with his son, Ray Jr. This week, he went to Mexico and watched the Baja 1000. He flew back to South Florida with Robby Gordon and said they talked about the race non-stop for hours.

“Robby’s truck in the Trophy Truck class is an engineering marvel,” Evernham said. “Over there, if I can invent a shock absorber that’s better, there isn’t a rule that says I can’t. Maybe I’ll go work on Robby’s truck next year.”

The point is that right now, Evernham doesn’t know what he wants to do. He doesn’t know whether he’ll miss what he’s doing right now so badly that he’ll come right back.

But he has decided it’s important for to him to find out.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What a long, strange year it's been

MIAMI - I had to write this somewhere, and I am probably going to be wrong about it. But here goes.

To me, the only thing that's logical is for Jeff Gordon to win this year's championship. I know, it would take something really bizarre for that to happen. But have you been watching this Nextel Cup season?

When has the most bizarre thing possible NOT happened this year?

Go all the way back to Daytona. You couldn't swing a tire iron without hitting somebody who NASCAR was fining or suspending. Then, the race ended with half the field crashing and wrecking while NASCAR tried to decide if a caution flag might be in order sometime after Kevin Harvick crossed the finish line a few feet in front of Mark Martin.

The teams were all whispering about what a disaster the car of tomorrow was going to be when it finally got on the track. Then, the car got on the track and what we saw was, well, a race. Kyle Busch won it, then got out of the car and told everybody how he hated the car that had just won him the race.

We went to Texas and Busch wrecked. He left the track but the team wasn't through racing. So Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped in the car for a few laps. People were making a big deal out of it, because Dale Jr. was quite likely going to be looking for a new ride. I thought it was just a coincidence.

Jeff Gordon won back-to-back races to tie and then pass Dale Earnhardt on the all-time victory list. Gordon carried an Earnhardt flag around to mark the occasion at Phoenix and one Internet writer compared that to "dancing on Earnhardt's grave." I thought that was a curious analogy.

Earnhardt Jr. then announced he would, indeed, be leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. That night, driving in my car toward Darlington, somebody called me to tell me it was being reported that he'd signed a deal to go to Richard Childress Racing. I knew better. So I wasn't wrong about everything.

ESPN kept breaking news that other people had written about weeks earlier. People kept running out of gas, or having more gas than anybody thought they possibly could.

One race, at Pocono, got rained out just as a leader was about to get passed. Another race at Michigan got rained out, then got rained out again. Some people thought it might get rained out a third time and actually reserved hotel rooms for Thanksgiving weekend. In a Marriott, of course. You've got to have those points.

Yet another race, at Kansas, got stopped because of rain, then restarted. And that changed just about everything in the Chase.

Clint Bowyer won the first Chase race and everybody decided he was going to upset everybody and win the championship. Jeff Gordon won two straight races and everybody decided he had the championship wrapped up. Then Jimmie Johnson won four in a row and now he's considered a shoo-in.

But how? Didn't you see how the race at Kansas ended, when Greg Biffle won but some people who think NASCAR can't do anything right decided that Biffle was out of gas and NASCAR made him lie about it?

Didn't you see the Atlanta race, where gas fouled by excessive water pumped into Denny Hamlin's car Friday morning finally made his engine sputter late Sunday afternoon to cause a big wreck and help Johnson extend his winning streak?

Didn't you see the Texas race, where points racing strategy would have told Johnson to settle for second but old-fashioned competition took over?

Has anything that has happened this year made any sense to you? Why should it start on Sunday?

Maybe a seagull will swoop down, get stuck in Johnson's grille, cause his engine to overheat and lead to a 39th-place finish. I don't know.

But if it's weird, it'll happen this year.

Unless it doesn't.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Penske points shuffle should not be allowed to happen

AVONDALE, Ariz. - It's just after 2:30, local time, here in the Valley of the Sun and the engines for Saturday's Busch Series race have just fired at Phoenix International Raceway.

As I sit here, I don't know what Roger Penske is planning to do with the car owner points Kurt Busch has amassed in the No. 2 Dodges this year.

I haven't personally had a conversation with anybody affiliated with Penske Racing about that subject yet. That will likely change tonight when I go to a reception at Penske's museum in nearby Scottsdale, but that doesn't mean I'll walk out of there with a definitive answer.

There's talk, though, that the team plans to transfer the owner points from Busch's car to the No. 77 Dodges that Hornish will drive next year. That would guarantee Hornish, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champion, a starting spot in next year's first five races.

Busch would be protected for those races by the fact he'd be the most recent champion without a guranteed spot.

According to how the rules are written, apparently, there's absolutely nothing to stop the team from doing that. It certainly makes smart business sense for the team to give Hornish and what would be a brand new team a safety net, too.

But just because it can happen doesn't mean that it should. It's certainly not fair of me to expect Penske not to do it simply because I don't think it's what a true "sportsman" should do. I think Hornish should have to earn his way into those races just like anybody else, but that's me spending Roger Penske's money and Penske didn't become as successful as he is by letting things like that happen.

It is fair, though, for me to expect NASCAR to step up and say, "Folks, this just ain't gonna happen."

I know that NASCAR has allowed points swaps before. I know that Paul Menard got a spot in the top 35 in the Nextel Cup Series as the result of a business transaction and not racing competition earlier this year - when Dale Earnhardt Inc. purchased Ginn Racing.

But let me ask you this. If you hit yourself in the head with a hammer 12 times, should it be a rule that you have to keep banging away after you realize that if you stopped it wouldn't hurt as much?

NASCAR should have realized it was getting into a mess when it started letting people sell points and slide car numbers on and off cars willy-nilly. It didn't, and that's a shame.

But even if some of the cows are already out of the corral, that doesn't mean it's not smart to shut the gate before they all get gone. And the idea of letting Sam Hornish Jr. have a free pass for five races next year when other guys who've worked all season this year but failed to make the top 35 stinks.

Yes, I know that happens other ways. I know Dario Franchitti, for example, is going to have top-35 status in the No. 40 Dodges because of what David Stremme did in that car this year. But Chip Ganassi Racing took Stremme out to put Franchitti in, and it's not using up another spot by playing games with provisionals to do so.

NASCAR sometimes acts as if it's powerless to stop something stupid from happening. We all know better. NASCAR can do pretty much what it wants to, and most of the time it shows no lack of willingness to do precisely that.

Step up, boys.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Gordon fans ought to be fired up

PHOENIX - For the sake of a good championship battle over the final two races of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, I hope Jeff Gordon and his race team are as fired up as his fans are these days.

The Gordon faithful seem to be pretty stirred up that some of us who cover NASCAR are simply pointing out that it seems that Jimmie Johnson and his team are behaving pretty much like Gordon and his team did during the pinnacle of its success.

Matt Kenseth said after Sunday's race at Texas what a lot of us had been talking about.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have taken on the role as the sport's standard by which other teams measure themsevles. Most teams go to the track now thinking that if they want to win the race, they're going to have to beat the No. 48 Chevrolets to do it.

Now nobody is saying that Gordon and his No. 24 team, led by crew chief, Steve Letarte, are bums.

A lot of my colleagues declared Jeff the presumptive champion after he built a 68-point lead halfway through the Chase. And it's absolutely true that it has taken a Herculean effort by Johnson to erase that margin by winning the past three races.

But Johnson has won those races and he is the current points leader.

Johnson has won those races the way Gordon used to win them, taking two tires one time and four the next and winning either way, or rallying back when it seemed like he'd be no factor for much of the day. That stuff is straight out of the Jeff Gordon-Ray Evernham playbook from 1995 through 1998, when they put together one of the greatest runs in the history of the sport by winning three championships in four years.

I covered the final two years of that run, including the remarkable 1998 season when Gordon won 13 races and just destroyed the rest of the field in the title race. Back then, I used to joke to people that I should just change my e-mail to to save people some time when they were sending their invective my way.

Now, apparently, that address is due for a little tweak. Maybe I need to be

Don't get me wrong. I like the fact that Gordon's fans are stirred up. They ought to be.

Their guy is having a tremendous year. He's got as many top 10s this year as he had in his 13-victory season, and twice as many as he had two years ago when he missed the Chase. He roared through the regular season and won back-to-back Chase races to build the 68-point lead that three weeks ago looked pretty darn good.

But if he's going to win this year's championship, he's going to have to beat Johnson and the 48 team twice, here at Phoenix and again at Homestead.

Gordon's average finish at Phoenix is 8.2. Johnson's is 7.2, but Gordon did win here earlier this year while Johnson finished fourth.

It's not being critical of Gordon to say that he needs a differential like that again this week to really have a shot at Homestead. If Johnson leaves here leading by 40 or 50 points, he's an odds-on favorite to repeat as champion. If Gordon had a lead that size, he'd be just as big of a favorite.

I can hear the Gordon fans screaming at me right now, telling me he DID have a big lead after 26 races, but that the Chase wiped that out. That's precisely right on both parts. He DID have a big lead AND the Chase wiped that out. Those points no longer exist.

It's like Gordon made a perfect 1,600 on the SAT to get into college. That's great, but that doesn't help his grade-point average. The first 26 races get you in the playoffs, but it's what you do from there on that determines a champion.

You don't have to like that, but that doesn't make it any less real.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Trying to tell why one is a bad guy and the other so good

FORT WORTH, Texas - I will say this for Bob Bahre. The guy sure is one heck of a skater. My first year covering NASCAR for The Charlotte Observer was 1997. The fall before that, the Cup Series went to North Wilkesboro for the last time.

A whole lot of people were just fighting mad about losing that track from the schedule. I understand why people who live in and around Wilkes County would be upset, since it was a big deal to lose those races. I understand why fans hated to lose what they considered an old-time short-track, too.

What I never did understand, though, was how Bruton Smith came to be the devil in that whole deal. Maybe I don't know the whole story, because I did come in near the mdidle of it, but my understanding is that Smith and Bahre each bought 50 percent of North Wilkesboro.

So Smith took one date to Texas, Bahre took one race to New Hampshire and North Wilkesboro closed. Everybody seemed to awfully upset with Smith, but nobody seemed to be particularly worked up about Bahre.

Didn't they do the same thing? Weren't they equally to "blame" for harvesting the corpse of a dying track that time and progress had passed by? Am I missing something there?

I went to New Hampshire for the first time and when people up there said Smith's name, it was like they were spitting out something that had a horrible taste. But butter wouldn't melt in their mouth when they were talking about Bahre.

It was like Bahre had done the sport a service, while Smith had poked it in the eye with a really sharp stick.

Which brings us to what was announced Friday - Smith's purchase of Bahre's track for $340 million.

The general speculation is that Smith will take one of New Hampshire's dates and move that to Las Vegas. That may not wind up being what happens, but if it is you can bet your butt that the race fans in New England will put the blame for that right squarely on Smith's shoulders. And that Bob Bahre will skate on it once again.

Don't get me wrong. I completely understand that Bob Bahre is the man who brought NASCAR racing to those fans. I also understand that he has helped dozens and dozens of racers with his support of series like the Busch East (formerly Busch North) and the modifieds.

But things are going to change, one way or another, over the next few years at New Hampshire.

Either one (probably) or both (unlikely, I think) of the track's dates are going to be plucked away, or just about everything from the number of suites to the size, shape and characteristics of the track itself is going to be altered. In fact, it's likely that some combination of all of that will happen.

Every change the fans don't like will be because Smith screwed it up, and everything the track "used to do" will get better and better as it fades into the past.

And Bob Bahre, with $340 million in his bank account, will skate off into the New England sunset.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Here's how I feel about Dale Jr.

Over the past few days, I've had a bunch of e-mails about the blog I wrote from the test at Atlanta on Monday about Dale Earnhardt Jr.

One person asked me to simply tell him what I truly think about Dale Jr., since he felt like it was something different every day. So I answered his questions, and thought it would make a decent blog, too.

So here it is:

I really, really like and admire Dale Jr. I think he deserves a great deal of credit for knowing that going to Hendrick Motorsports removes any excuse he might have for not having success, yet choosing to do it anyway.

He KNOWS people think he's over rated. He KNOWS people won't think he's proved himself and won't until he wins a championship. And he is not only acknowledging that by going to Hendrick, he is embracing that challenge and welcoming the pressure he's going to have over there. There's nothing about that I don't admire.

I think he has handled an impossible amount of pressure with as much skill as anybody could have. I think he knows he will never, ever measure up to what some people think he ought to be, which is his dad.

There was only one Earnhardt and he knows that.

He knows that he will never be able to satisfy everybody. So he wants to satisfy himself in knowing that he gave himself every chance to enjoy as much success as possible by going to the team he feels gives him the best chance he has to realize the potential he has.

I think his family situation is tragic. His relationship with his stepmother is something I wouldn't wish on anybody, and I think everybody involved in that contributes to the dysfunction. Teresa Earnhardt is not evil incarnate. He's never said she was. But they genuinely never connected on any kind of true level, and that means they really never leaned on each other when they lost Dale Sr. That's heartbreaking.

If you read me closely, I think when I write things that can be considered critical of him what I am really going after is the hype machine that is built up around him. The only thing critical I think I have written about him recently was when he said that his team wouldn't get credit for how well it has run and that how when it runs well it's at the back of the newspaper. That's absurd. Nobody is covered more.

What happens sometimes is that he believes people aren't writing about him enough, it's because the people around him cut him off from the media and have him off doing all kinds of other dog and pony shows. They tell us he doesn't have time to do interviews, and he doesn't because they line up 400 things for him to do to feed the monster they build around him. I hope that will change when he gets to Hendrick.

Is he better than Kyle Busch? I don't know. There's no way I can know that now, based on what they've done so far. I think Kyle has championship(s) in his future. I think Dale Jr. does, too.

Who wins one first? That's a great debate until it is answered?

Maybe this is the birth of a great rivalry. I sure hope so.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Car of Tomorrow: New meaning in Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. - It's really dangerous to draw conclusions based on limited data, but let me offer a couple of quick observations from the car of tomorrow test at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The big story, of course, is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is testing with the team he'll be driving for next year -- Hendrick Motorsports.

Earnhardt Jr. is wearing a white fire suit with the "adidas" logo. The cars he is driving have the No. 5 on them and are painted in a red and white paint scheme to mimic the way the first cars team owner Rick Hendrick ran back when he got into NASCAR in 1984. I will bet you everything I own there will be a diecast version of it available for purchase within six weeks.

There's 20 times the media here than would be here for a typical test. If Earnhardt Jr. wasn't here, I would have pointed the car north after my Sirius NASCAR Radio show went off at 11 a.m.

Earnhardt Jr. came to the media center at noon during the midday break and took questions. He then walked outside and took a few more. He was surrounded by about 25 reporters.

Inside the media center, Bobby Labonte waited patiently for the reporters to come back in. He was the second driver scheduled for interviews. Labonte already has a championship, by the way.

After Labonte was done, I walked into the garage and another knot of reporters was surrounding Tony Eury Jr., who will be Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief. About 50 feet away, there was nobody bothering the guys at the No. 8 team's truck. Regan Smith is testing that car here today. The car he drove to the track was painted primer gray. There's probably no merchandise program planned for that.

Before I walked back into the media center to write this blog, I stopped to talk to Kyle Busch. He's testing with his new team, too. Busch is moving to Joe Gibbs Racing after leaving Hendrick to create the spot Earnhardt Jr. is moving into.

"Yeah, I saw the 5 car out there," Busch said, speaking of the car Earnhardt Jr. is driving that bears Busch's current number. "It was fun passing it."

Bragging? Nope. When I got back to the media center, they were handing out the list of speeds from the morning session. First? Kyle Busch, at 186.190 mph. Earnhardt Jr. was seventh at 184.450 mph.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Where is the love? Dale Earnhardt Jr. asks

HAMPTON, Ga. - Poor ol’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bless his heart, he’s just not getting enough attention.

“When we blow a motor and fall out of the race, the story is who won and how exciting the race was,” Earnhardt Jr. said this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “We're lost in the back of the newspaper somewhere and we get no credit for how good we've been.”

Gosh, that’s awful. How could the dazzling success of a team that’s done what Earnhardt Jr. has done all year be overlooked?

I mean, for goodness sakes. The No. 8 car has finished in the top 10 twice in the past seven weeks. It has led 59 whole laps in the past two months. And the team got all the way up to 11th in the points for one whole week early this year, and clings tenaciously to 13th in the current standings.

“As far as handling and running up front, I've never ran up front as often as I have this year,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I never have. This year I've been going to the race track and been in the top five 95 percent of the races and I've never been that way before and it's a shame we won't be able to get the credit or the ‘attaboy’ for it."

You know, looking back on how we’ve covered the sport this year, suddenly it becomes apparent that all of us in this business just have not given Earnhardt Jr. enough publicity this year. After all, you hardly ever read anything about him in the paper.

Just to be clear, I do understand his point. Too many times this year, Earnhardt Jr.’s day has started off with great promise only to come to a bad end. Last week at Martinsville, for instance, he ran among the leaders all day until his troubled engine finally gave way on the final restart.

He finished 23rd, and that’s really been the story all year. Despite the fact he’s run well at times, Earnhardt Jr. and his team have not closed the deal. The No. 8 Chevrolet hasn’t won a race since May 6, 2006, at Richmond, and he’s had as many did-not-finishes (seven) as he’s had top-five finishes this year.

“We feel we missed a great opportunity this year with a great chance of winning the championship and challenging for it,” Earnhardt Jr. said of what will be his final season at Dale Earnhardt Inc. “We’re really ticked off about that. ...We feel like we're a top-five team. We've run in the top five every week. I don't think anybody even realizes.”

Earnhardt Jr. seems to have a fast car for Sunday’s Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He’s won here before, and he’s won at Texas and Phoenix, too, so it’s absolutely possible that he’ll win again before moving to Hendrick Motorsports next year.

“I feel ridiculous going winless this year because we should have won,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I feel pretty gypped.”

As for any lack of attention, though, that’s laughable.

There’s a test Monday and Tuesday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with teams working on their car of tomorrow setups for this type of track for next season. Earnhardt Jr. will be testing with his new team, and a lot of reporters who’d normally be heading home after Sunday’s race will be hanging around at least for Monday’s test primarily because of that single fact.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shav Glick was a gentle giant of a sportswriter

Shav Glick died early Saturday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 86 years old, but in experience years, he was more like 286.

Glick was the motorsports writer for the Los Angeles Times from 1969 until his retirement in late 2006. He had been battling cancer for the past year or so, and if I know Shav, he fought the heck out of it.

There’s very little evidence that Glick ever wanted to be anything else besides a sportswriter. Maybe that’s the reason I respected him so much.

He had his first byline in the paper in his hometown of Pasadena, Calif., in 1935 when he was just 14 years old. So for 70 years, give or take, Glick covered sports.

When he retired, he wrote a column about some of the greatest moments in his unbelievable career. He told a story about a baseball game he covered at Brookside Park, near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, in March of 1938.

The Chicago White Sox faced a team of players from Pasadena, and that team included a young shortstop who had two hits, stole a base and played so brilliantly in the field that the White Sox manager said he’d sign the kid in a minute if he could. The thing was he couldn’t, because the shortstop was named Jackie Robinson and he was black.

Glick covered Ted Williams when Williams was still in high school in San Diego. In that retirement column, he wrote this: “You think about all the wonderful things you have seen and been privileged to write about - 35 Indianapolis 500s, Formula One races, Times Grand Prix sports car races, every Long Beach Grand Prix but one, world championship motorcycle events, midgets, spring cars and yes, even drifting. And that's only the motor sports. How about two Olympic Games, a dozen Masters and U.S. Opens, a British Open at St. Andrews, Wimbledon, the World Series, Santa Anita Handicaps and…more Rose Bowl Games than I can count.”

The remarkable thing is that Shav was quite likely was the nicest guy in the press room at just about every one of those events.

Friday, October 19, 2007

With this ring ...

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is just get out of the way.

With that in mind, we present the following release about Greg Biffle's wedding this week to longtime girlfriend Nicole Lunders.


At just around 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday, October 17th, Greg Biffle and his longtime girlfriend Nicole were pronounced husband and wife in a little white chapel at the Palmetto Bluff Resort in South Carolina.

The couple met in the spring of 1998 and began dating officially later that summer. Last Christmas, Greg decided it was time to propose and Nicole happily accepted. Plans were made for an autumn wedding at the southern resort located about 20 minutes from Savannah.

Greg and Nicole exchanged vows with just over 100 of their family and friends on hand for the ceremony. Katie Kenseth served as the matron of honor and Rodger Ueltschi, a childhood friend of Greg’s, served as the best man.

Also included in wedding party were Michele Lunders (sister-in-law of the bride), Kris Rondeau (friend of the bride), Amy Wilson (friend of the bride), Jeff Biffle (brother of the groom), Tony Lunders (brother of the bride) and Matt Kenseth (friend of the groom). The newlyweds also included three other family members, Foster, Gracie and Savannah (two boxers and a rescue dog), in the post-wedding photos.

The bride was escorted down the aisle by her father Russ and wore a custom backless white dress with a Chantilly lace overlay by Bonaparte NY and designer Junko Yoshioka. The bridesmaids wore lavender dresses by Vera Wang.

Following the ceremony, guests were invited to have cocktails on the lawn where the setting could well have been the backdrop for a scene in “Gone with the Wind”. Guests were treated to a six-course dinner at the Palmetto Bluff Inn and a reception with drinks and dancing followed.

The Biffles would like to extend their sincerest gratitude to everyone in the NASCAR family for their best wishes at this joyful time.

Man bites dog at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Ron Hornaday and Mike Skinner came into the media center a while ago to talk about their battle for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

It’s a pretty good scrap, with Hornaday leading Skinner by 14 points. They’ve swapped the lead back and forth a handful of times in the past six weeks, too, and each has won four races this year.

Skinner led 246 of 253 laps in the race here earlier this year, but Hornaday has had the hot hand in the series lately.

So you’d think their fight for the championship with five races left would be a good topic for discussion, right?

Well, maybe not. The third question was about Jacques Villeneuve. The next two were about Dario Franchitti.

Between them, Villeneuve and Franchitti have run a grand total of one race in the Truck Series – Villeneuve ran at Talladedga. Hornaday and Skinner have run in 344, winning 56 times. Hornaday has won two championships and Skinner has one.

Now I understand a "man bites dog" story as good as anybody else. Open-wheel racers coming to NASCAR is the flavor of the month.

But good grief.

Skinner and Hornaday were as polite as they could be in answering the questions. But they were absolutely puzzled by the line of questioning. And rightly so.

To bump or not to bump

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – You know, Jimmie Johnson is in a tough spot.

Think about it. Earlier this year, Johnson was leading the race at Martinsville Speedway and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon rapped on his rear bumper about 20 times trying to move Johnson out of the way to win the race.

Johnson held on and Gordon finished second. There was a lot of discussion afterward about the relative propriety of how they raced each other, and that has been renewed in advance of Sunday’s Subway 500 at this .526-mile track.

The accepted wisdom now seems to be that it’s more difficult to move somebody out of the way with the car of tomorrow, although Johnson says it doesn’t take these guys long to figure how to do what they need to do.

So there’s a level at which a higher degree of contact seems to somehow be more acceptable here. That sort of "do what it takes" attitude is, for some reason, easier to justify now than it might have been before.

For everybody but Johnson, that is.

Think about it. If Johnson is running second behind Gordon in the final laps on Sunday, he’s in a no-win situation.

If Johnson bumps Gordon hard enough to get him out of the way and goes on to win the race, all Gordon has to do is cry foul. Since Gordon didn’t "take" a win from Johnson in that way, Johnson would be in position to take some heat if he did that to Gordon.

If Johnson doesn’t bump Gordon at all, fans will be all over him for not trying hard enough to beat his teammate or for not trying hard enough to win because of the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

To bump or not to bump? Either way, I think Johnson is in a tricky spot. Or at least could be.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ray Cooper will be sorely missed

For some reason, Ray Cooper always seemed like he was being asked to walk through life going uphill into a strong headwind.

Things rarely seemed to go easily for him. Sometimes he'd run into obstacles and every once in while he'd drag a few of them into his own path.

But the thing about Ray was that, no matter what, he always kept going. No matter how steep the hill got, no matter how strong the wind blew, he kept getting after it. And most of the time, he did it with a smile on his face.

So early this summer, when he started feeling bad, for a while he just kept plugging. Finally, though, he had to go to the doctor. And the news he got wasn't at all good.

Coop almost always found ways to beat whatever you threw at him. If you sat with him at the poker table, you knew that even if he had nothing in his hand there was a better than fair chance he'd find a way to at least split the pot with the guy who did.

After winning all kinds of awards as a racing writer, he went to work as a manfacturer's public relations rep. That means he'd go to as many drivers and teams with Chevrolet or Dodge -- he worked for both since I met him -- and record what they were saying in interviews. He'd then transcribe that and put it out for the rest of the reporters who might not have been right there at the time.

Sometimes, a driver or crew chief will say something that the people who wrote Coop's paycheck might not have wanted reporters to see. In most instances, though, Ray didn't care.

He felt that it was his job to help people like me do ours, and since he'd done our job before, he knew what we really needed to get from him. So that's what he did, and sometimes that didn't make him the employee of the month. But it made him somebody we could trust and appreciate.

Coop's doctors tried what they could. While all of that was going on, Ray tried to keep working. He came to Bristol, with a lot of effort, just to see everybody because he missed being around us. We sat there that Saturday afternoon and laughed and told stories, and when I walked away it made my heart hurt even more because that's something we'd become accustomed to doing every week with him.

When the doctors said there wasn't a whole lot more they could do, Ray decied that he might as well go on back to work then. And he tried, too. But cancer just doesn't play fair.

Ray died early Saturday. I really can't come up with anything more profound to say about that than it really, truly stinks that he's gone.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How far can Smith vs. Concord go?

This business about Bruton Smith thinking about building a new track to replace Lowe's Motor Speedway interests me on a lot of levels.

First, it's great theater. Smith has a lot of showman in his soul, and he certainly got racing and his facility on the front page of my newspaper with this week's public relations gambit.

But I think it's crazy for people to think Smith is just trying to sell tickets for the Bank of America 500. I don't see how that works. Are fans sitting around saying, "Gosh, we'd better go see the race at Charlotte next week before they close the track?" I doubt that.

Is Smith already trying to creat a "buzz" about the drag strip he wants to build near the current track? Maybe, but there would be a "newness" to drag racing in Charlotte the first few years and I think drag racing has enough fans to fill up the stands for a National Hot Rod Association event next September if that comes off.

What I keep wondering is what happened? Smith told me this week that he had a meeting in his office six weeks ago where he showed economic development officials connected with the city of Concord his plans for the drag strip that started all of this. He read their names to me off the business cards he collected at the meeting.

The folks in Concord say they had no idea Smith had started moving dirt, though. That's entirely possible, since talking about doing something and actually doing it are two different things. But the people in Concord have been doing business with Smith for years and they have to know that Smith isn't the kind to ease into a project.

But somewhere, somehow, somebody convinced the mayor and the city of Concord to call a special meeting last Monday night and change the zoning rules to speficially prohibit Smith from building a drag strip.

Was it a simple matter of Concord being upset about Smith going headlong into action without signing off on everything with them, or was it because there are people who've built homes near the track in the past few years who have enough clout, for some reason, to back Concord into a corner where it had to take some kind of stand against Smith that now has blown up into the current mess?

Here's where we are now. If Smith builds a drag strip at the current location of Lowe's Motor Speedway, it's going to look like he made Concord back down. If Concord doesn't cave, Smith might be forced to show that he's willing to back up the talk he's done about taking his racing franchise elsewhere in the Charlotte market.

When it gets to that point, egos are a factor. Smith has a huge one, there's no question about that. But don't make the mistake of thinking the people on the other side of this don't have at lot a stake in this, too.

It takes two sides to have an argument, and each side is always going to be convinced that it's the other one that's being stubborn.

The scary thing is that sometimes both sides dig in so far that nobody can really afford to give ground. But eventually, something has got to give.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Time is a fleeting thing, on the track and in real life

I am sitting here on a Friday afternoon, piddling away at stuff with Nextel Cup practice from Talladega on the television, and somehow I got to thinking about how funny time is.

I'll be heading to Talladega early Saturday morning to cover qualifying for Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at the 2.66-mile track. When that starts, the 16 guys fighting for the eight spots available to those not in the top 35 in Nextel Cup owner points will be fighting for every tenth of a second they can get.

I would guess that the fastest eight in that group will be among the fastest 12 or so cars overall in the qualifying sessions. The 35 exempt cars worked mainly on racing setups Friday, but the other were trying to squeeze out every possible bit of speed from their cars.

A second on a race track like Talladega is forever. But sometimes forever can seem like a second, too. In a couple of hours, I am going to my 30th high school reunion. Good grief, I swear it was like three or four days ago I was sitting in Mrs. Geraldine Johnston's English class trying not to choke while taking a test on whatever we had been reading that week.

They sent us a list of people who're planning to be there Friday night, and as I read through it I saw names of a bunch of people that I went through 12 years - Rhyne Elementary, Highland Junior High and Hunter Huss High School - with. I can't say for sure, but I think there are a handful of them that were in at least one class with me every day from the time I was 6 until the time I went to college.

Somebody asked me how long it had been since I saw some of those folks, and it stunned me to have to say I imagined I hadn't seen them since we graduate in June of 1977. It sure doesn't seem like that.

The reunion is Friday night and Saturday night, but I am only playing hooky from the race track for one night. They'll have to tell lies about me rather than to me at Saturday's gathering.

The other reason I didn't go to Alabama on Thursday, as I normally would have, was that we had Eli's first birthday party Thursday night. His birthday was Wednesday, but it worked out better for everybody to do it a day late, and I was lucky I got to be there to see him.

Eli is my grandson, and he's growing up like a weed. There are million things I could say about him, but it'd just be the kind of paw-paw bragging that nobody really wants to hear.

What amazes me most about him, though, is the sense of wonder he still seems to have about everything you put in front of him. A puppy, a bicycle, a toy with a few flashing lights - anything that catches his eye makes those same eyes light up and dance.

I am guessing, and hoping, there will a lot of that same light in some of the slightly older eyes among my old friends and classmates when we get together Friday night. There were a lot of pretty cool people who graduated with me in 1977, even though when I looked back today at the list of songs that were atop the charts that year I have to admit I was pretty disappointed.

Surely we knew better than that.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll go back to thinking about and writing about the tiny little snippets of time that make such a big difference in the sport I now cover.

Until then, though, I think I am going to see how slow I can make time go. I look forward to seeing what kind of young man Eli will be one day, but I have to admit he's pretty remarkable the way he is right now.

As for my old high school buddies, maybe we'll manage to spend as much time talking about how remarkable things have been in the years since we left each other as we will about how much fun we had back and Hunter Huss.

I sure hope so.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

All hail the potty-mouth police - NOT!

I don’t know if NASCAR will do anything to punish Tony Stewart for using an expletive that aired during a Saturday morning practice session from Kansas Speedway.

And, to be totally honest with you, I absolutely do not care. I know there will be people who get their knickers in a bunch over it. Plenty of folks sitting around me in the media center got all worked up, running to tattle to NASCAR after hearing about the four-letter word from their respective networks of nervous Nellys.

A couple of hours later, I saw a knot of about a dozen of them camped behind the NASCAR trailer, apparently waiting to see if some official was going to come out and say that Stewart would be drawn and quartered, or flogged in the courthouse square.

I know Dale Earnhardt Jr. got penalized 25 points three years ago when he used a four-letter word in a victory lane interview. And I know that earlier this year, Juan Pablo Montoya got in trouble for making a gesture toward a cameraman when he didn’t know the camera was being used to send out a live picture.

But I also understand that this whole thing has gotten so far out of hand it’s not even funny any more. What you have now are a bunch of people sitting around their TVs looking for things to call in about. It’s getting to be as bad as golf, where people with nothing better to do than research obscure rules decisions looking for a way to get somebody slapped with a two-shot penalty.

If a NASCAR driver is looking dead into a camera with a reporter standing alongside of him asking him questions, the driver should be smart enough to know that he’s being interviewed and that he should watch his mouth. I really don’t know if points penalties are appropriate for that, but that’s the standard that has been set.

Now, though, the potty-mouth police are trying to extend their jurisdiction. Let a driver say “hell” or “damn” during an interview and my email box fills up with people asking why that’s not worth 25 points, even though it never has been. There are also times when a driver or crew chief has no way of knowing what he’s saying is being broadcast, but some fans still think anything these competitors say should be punishable. I say…well…I say a word that would probably hack off those prigs.

You can argue that Stewart shouldn’t use words like the one he used Saturday morning at all, and that’s fine. But I don’t think you can argue that he should be responsible for figuring out when a camera that’s on him is going out live or not. I thought the penalty against Montoya earlier this year was a travesty, too, because it’s not up to the competitor to look for the little red light.

NASCAR doesn’t want its race broadcasts to be “R-rated,” and I understand that. By and large, its competitors get that. But that doesn’t mean they should be held responsible if a microphone picks up something the competitor said without fair warning that it was being broadcast.

What it comes down to these days is a silly little game of “gotcha.” I, for one, am just through playing it.

Drag strip too much for speedway and airport neighbors

KANSAS CITY, Kansas - As I was leaving Kansas Speedway Friday afternoon, I drove out of the tunnel and took a left to go up a block to stop by the Arthrur Bryant's barbecue restaurant to pick up some supper.

It's hard for me to pass up Arthur Bryant's when I come here, but if I'd wanted to eat somewhere else I probably had about 30 choices within a 360-degree scan of the horizon from the top row of the race track.

As I drove through the area, past the Cabela's and the Nebraska Furniture and the whole "Village West" area that's grown up around the track here since it opened, I couldn't help but be reminded of a place a little closer to home.

The first time I went to Lowe's Motor Speedway, it was still called Charlotte Motor Speedway. And for several miles in any direction, that's just about all that was there.

Now, within a couple of miles, there's a golf course, a new resort hotel, a handful of new and used car lots, 25 to 30 restaurants of all shapes and sizes and one of those mega-malls that we're always told ranks among North Carolina's top "tourist attractions" each year.

Charlotte has grown in a lot of directions, and while technically the speedway area has been annexed by the nearby city of Concord - in what largely is a marriage of convenience concocted to work around my home state's convoluted laws governing alcohol sales - some of the growth in that area was inevitable.

But some of it, undoubtedly, was spurred by the presence of the track, too.

People also live out that way, and sometimes living near a place that brings in crowds of more than 150,000 brings with it challenges.

But the track has been in the same place since 1960, and what few people who've been there since then no doubt have largely made peace with all of that by now.

There is, however, a storm brewing that involves some folks who haven't been around quite as long as the speedway has.

There are folks, some of whom built or moved into their houses as recently as last year, who vow to fight LMS owner Bruton Smith on his desire to build a drag strip on the speedway's property. Some of the leaders from the city of Concord appear to be inclined to side with those who have concerns, too, and this does not sit well with Smith, who very much likes to get his way.

As of late this week, the permits and paperwork involved in undertaking such a project had been wrapped up. But Smith already had people moving dirt on the site where the $60 million drag strip facility would be built. The National Hot Rod Association has already saved Smith a slot on its 2008 schedule, Sept. 11-14, and in Smith's mind he could have the new place ready in plenty of time for that.

I sort of wonder about people who'd buy a house located between a major private aviation airport and an oval track that has cars on it maybe 200 days a year, adjacent to a major interstate and within just a few miles of every kind of shop, store or service one could imagine and still think a drag strip would interrupt their quiet, serene bucolic lifestyle.

The residents who oppose a drag strip at Lowe's Motor Speedway have every right to make those feelings known, and the people elected to serve those citizens apparently have some tough decisions to make in the next few weeks.

But if there's one thing I've learned in the 11 years I've been doing what I do, it's that the people who build places like Lowe's Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway aren't the kind of people who usually sit still or who think small.

And once they get a ball rolling, it's awfully hard to stop it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How Dale Jr. got No. 88

DALLAS – So we now have a pretty good idea of how this whole Dale Earnhardt Jr. deal with Hendrick Motorsports and his new car number and sponsors went down.

Based on the conversations and interviews done at Wednesday’s news conference at the Dallas Convention Center, the leading number in the clubhouse was, for quite a while, the 81.

Somewhere along the way, though, as trademarks and things like that were being researched, it was discovered that there’s an apparel company called Company 81 that sells a lot of the same kind of shirts and things you’d sell to race fans with a car number on it.

Hendrick Motorsports could have trademarked a particular design of an 81, but there’s nothing that could have been done to stop that company from putting out its own shirts with that number on it. That would have caused a type of confusion in the marketplace nobody wants any part of.

(There also was the fact that "81" is a number sometimes associated with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle group. Supposedly, members of that group sometimes have that number tattooed on them because the "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet and the "A" is the first, so "81" also can stand for "HA." Team owner Rick Hendrick, though, said that wasn’t a factor in the decision to move away from the 81.)

Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick and everyone involved wanted a number with an "8" in it. They never thought much about the 88, figuring that number is already taken by Robert Yates Racing.

But since the number 28 isn’t being used right now, and since Earnhardt Jr. is keen on the sport’s history, that was the next target.

Kelley Earnhardt Elledge called Yates to ask about the 28 or, if Yates wanted to bring back the 28, maybe getting the 38. Yates said the 28 meant so much to him, because it was Davey Allison’s number and the number Yates started his team with, he’d rather keep that and bring it back himself. (That means you can figure the two cars Doug Yates will own next year will probably be the 28 and the 38.)

Robert Yates suggested the idea of giving the 88 to Earnhardt Jr.
That was fine with Earnhardt Jr. and Elledge and Hendrick. The number has a legacy in the sport, with 65 victories. Dale Jarrett is a driver Earnhardt Jr. respects, and he had the most recent success with it. Darrell Waltrip also won 25 races in that number, and DW also won championships driving in the Mountain Dew sponsored car.
So that all worked out nicely.

"Robert said ‘two eights are better than one,’" Elledge said.
To try to keep reporters guessing, Hendrick said the team put in trademark applications for several numbers it had no intention of using. He also said there were decals of other car numbers, figuring that information would get out and lead people to jump to conclusions. Some did.

Earnhardt Jr. said he had fun "playing the game" with reporters about the number and sponsor all summer. Hendrick was laughing, too, about the efforts to throw reporters off the scent.

But the whole thing just drove Elledge about half crazy, she said.

"I wish people could have just waited until we had it all to show everybody," she said. "There were times when I felt like I was in the middle of a big gossip ring."

Of course, if nobody cared enough to keep asking the questions, then Wednesday’s press conference wouldn’t have been carried live on several cable channels, including a home shopping channel. And a plane load of media from Charlotte wouldn’t have traveled halfway across country to see two paint jobs, either.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Plenty of room for racing

LOUDON, N.H. - There's a story going around up this way that New Hampshire International Speedway is for sale. I've been coming here 11 years now, and that sentence could have been written virtually every time I've been here.

Bob Bahre not only owns this track, it's like he's part of it. You see him around the garage and several other places all the time, far more than you ever see any other track owner unless you happen to be hob-nobbing in some corporate suite.

(That might not be totally fair. Dr. Joe Mattioli at Pocono is around a lot, too. But he and Bahre are certainly 1 and 1A in that department.)

Every time I'm here, I go into the little diner/snack bar next door to the media center for lunch on Friday. The food's good and the prices (yes, I pay) are very reasonable.

Every time, there's a big table in a corner with Bahre sitting there talking to NASCAR's top officials, usually including Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton and John Darby or at least some combination of the above.

There's a social element to the gathering, and of course there's lunch, too. But Bahre is also asking the NASCAR brass if there are any problems that need to be attended to as well. If something comes up, he'll take care of it. He won't disptach a minion to do it, either.

Bahre is 81 years old. He goes like he's half that age, but one of these days he's not going to want to put up with doing all he has to do to run a big-time race track. He's got a son, Gary, but Gary has apparently made it abundantly clear that he doesn't have this place in his blood the way his father has.

So with Nextel Cup dates worth their weight in dollar bills, the fact that ownership of this track might one day change hands stirs great interest.

Bahre has talked to International Speedway Corp. and to Speedway Motorsports Inc. (and its owner Bruton Smith), and the latest story is he has talked to John Henry, the man whose Fenway Sports Group bought into Roush Racing earlier this year.

That would be a perfect marriage, between the Boston Red Sox and this track.

You can't swing a rope around your head here without hitting someone in a Red Sox hat, and while the rest of the country this week has been paying a lot of attention to the New England Patriots' "spygate" affair the folks up here are obsessing over every pitch of a weekend series at Fenway Park with the New York Yankees.

There's absolutely no question that the Sox own this region. The Patriots might be a dynasty, but I once was at a Super Bowl where the Pats played the Carolina Panthers and all the Boston media could talk about was the latest developments on the baseball team's pitching staff.

That having been said, these folks also love racing. It rained all morning Saturday and it took until the start of the Truck Series race at 3 p.m. to get anything on the track.

The weather cleared and the Trucks raced, then the Whelen Modified cars took the track. As the sun went down behind the grandstands, the wind picked up and it was beginning to get a little chilly (by my standards, at least). But there were still plenty of people in the grandstands watching that race.

When this track is sold one day, the new owner might have plans to take one of the Cup dates away. That'd be wrong. The fans here fill this place up. They've done nothing to warrant losing a race. They support this track and support racing on all levels.

If selling it to John Henry and the Fenway group, maybe that means the New England roots will hold and those fans won't face that fate. Baseball might be king in New England, but there's plenty of room for racing here, too.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dale Jr., Kahne announcements coming soon

Next week is shaping up to be big week for NASCAR and the beverage business, with two major sponsorship announcements scheduled.
First, on Tuesday, Gillett Evernham Motorsports has set a 10. a.m. news conference at the team's shop near Statesville to announce the primary sponsor for Kasey Kahne’s Dodges for 2008.
Numerous sources and published reports have said that Budweiser will be that sponsor, moving to Kahne’s team after being on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No.. 8 Chevrolets.
Earnhardt Jr., of course, is moving from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports next year, and the final pieces of that puzzle will come together the next day in Dallas, Texas.
The Hendrick team has schedule a news conference for 1:30. p.m. on Wednesday to announce Earnhardt Jr.’s primary sponsor and to reveal the car number and paint scheme.
Why Dallas? reported Thursday that there is a major meeting of Pepsi Cola Company executives there on Wednesday. That would jibe with sources who have told the Observer that Pepsi-owned Mountain Dew and Amp, an energy drink affiliated with the Mountain Dew brand, will be featured on Earnhardt Jr.’s cars.
As for the number, as of now that remains a question.
Hendrick Motorsports has applied for trademarks on several numbers, most recently the No.. 28 adding that to a list that includes the 38, 51, 58, 81 and 82.
Team owner Rick Hendrick said last week in Richmond that the new number would "likely have an 8 in it."
The 88, currently used by Robert Yates Racing, also can’t be ruled out. Driver Ricky Rudd is retiring at the end of the year and Travis Kvapil, who will take over that ride in 2008, said earlier this week he doesn’t know what his number will be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NFL following NASCAR's lead

Somehow it's fitting that NASCAR is going to New England this weekend, isn't it?

All of a sudden, fans who pull for race car drivers aren't the only ones having to fall back on the whole "everybody does it" defense when it comes to living outside the rules.

The high and mighty New England Patriots, coached by the widely proclaimed "super genius" Bill Belichick, find themselves right in the middle of what we used to call a "BOM" story when I worked on the news side a thousand years ago. "BOM" stood for "Big Ol' Mess."

During Sunday's game against the New York Jets, NFL security removed someone who worked for the Patriots because he was suspected of attempting to steal the Jets' signals. The miscreant's video cameras and tape were also seized.

This comes after the NFL specifically warned teams they would face severe penalties if they were caught videotaping other teams' signals.

If you're a NASCAR fan, doesn't this all sound familiar? NASCAR tells teams not to mess with the car of tomorrow body or we're going to hit you hard, and when the penalties come down people act like they're stunned to be getting them.

Belichick "apologized" on Wednesday and said only that he had explained to NFL commissioner Roger Goddell that the case stemmed from a "interpretation" of the league's rules. The only thing he didn't say -- or at least I haven't heard it -- was anything about gray areas, working outside the box or pushing the envelope, but it's the same principle.

Anybody who has paid the slightest bit of attention to me when it comes to penalties in NASCAR knows that I have little tolerance for the "if you ain't cheatin', you ain't trying" attitude. If you can't play by the rules, you don't get to play.

Well, don't expect me to be different when it comes to the Patriots and Belichick.

Take away draft picks? That's even more importent than NASCAR fining people money and points. Suspending Belichick for one game or more? That works for me -- I like the idea of a four-game sit down, matching what the NFL does to players who don't play by the substance abuse rules.

But there should be more. The Patriots won a game they didn't play fair in. I don't care if they won 130-0, if they cheated the win shouldn't count. Maybe you don't give the Jets the win, either, but no way should the Patriots get to count that victory.

Friday, September 07, 2007

As news days go, Friday was another big one

Good grief.

Every once in a while you have a slow news day when you're covering NASCAR racing. Friday was not one of those days.

There's something about this race track in Richmond. Every time we come here, all heck breaks loose.

Maybe it's just the time of the year. In early May, the season has been going long enough for stuff to start shaking out. In late September, we're about to start the Chase and some teams are starting to turn the page on next year.

But it's strange. When they announced the settlement of the Texas lawsuit that led to "modernizing tradition" with changes to the schedule, that was announced here.

When they announced they were going to put restrictor plates on cars for a race at New Hampshire, that came out here. Dale Earnhardt held court about that in his hauler that day for more than an hour, but only about 10 minutes worth of what he said was printable.

Early Friday morning, DEI confirmed what everybody had been zeroed in on in saying that Mark Martin and Aric Almirola will drive the No. 8 and Regan Smith will get into what's now the No. 01.

A little while later, we noticed people scurrying about around the No. 31 Chevrolet. AT&T logos were being brought back out and slapped on the car. Something was afoot, and we later learned there had been a settlement in that legal battle involving NASCAR and Sprint Nextel along with AT&T and Richard Childress Racing.

Oh yeah, it looks like Dario Franchitti is coming to NASCAR to replace David Stremme at United Nations Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. That's big - Ashley Judd in the Cup garage!

Jimmie Johnson won the pole for Saturday night's race and hardly anybody noticed. But as everybody tried to wind up their day, an e-mail blast announced that Robert Yates is retiring, selling his team to his son, Doug, canceling the announced partnership with
Newman/Haas/Lanigan and naming Travis Kvapil to replace Ricky Rudd in the No. 88 next year.

Other than that, as an old friend of mine once said, ain't much happening.