Saturday, February 28, 2009

Speed on pole for Nationwide race

LAS VEGAS -- Scott Speed became the ninth driver to win the pole in his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Speed ran a lap at 182.451 mph in a No. 99 Toyota prepared by Michael Waltrip Racing to earn the top starting spot for Saturday afternoon's Sam's Town 300 at the 1.5-mile track.
Kevin Harvick will start second in the Nationwide race. Greg Biffle starts third.
Speed's pole-winning run was a bright spot for Toyota on what has so far been a trying weekend.
Lee White of Toyota Racing Development said Saturday that engine issues that forced four teams using TRD-built motors to change them Friday were "embarassing."
Speed, Brian Vickers, David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose all had issues with the lifters and camshafts. Kyle Busch, who won the pole for Sunday's Cup race, also changed engines Friday but that was unrelated to the engines in the other Toyotas. Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing team builds its own engines and does not use the TRD engines.
White said TRD used the same engine components in last fall's Cup race at Texas without issue. They brought it back last weekend at Auto Club Speedway and Brian Vickers had the same problem after he won the pole. But during the race there were no issues.
TRD personnel looked at the issue this week and thought they had developed something that would take care of it. But, White said, it now appears they went in the wrong direction.
White said TRD and the teams would look closely at how the replaced engines performed in Saturday's Cup practices. He said TRD is preparing to go back to a previous generation of components for next weekend at Atlanta if that becomes necessary.
Michael Waltrip's team has not changed engines in the No. 55. White said it appears that once an engine gets beyond about 75 miles without showing a problem they've been OK.
Robby Gordon and Max Papis also use TRD engines and they have had no problems so far. Papis' car is using the previous generation components.


Friday, February 27, 2009

SMI tracks to hold driver forums on Speed stage

LAS VEGAS – Speedway Motorsports Inc. announced a new program Friday for its race weekends that will bring more drivers out to meet more fans more often at the 13 SMI race weekends this year.

“This might be the biggest ‘no-brainer’ that we’ve ever put into motion,” said Marcus Smith, the president and chief operating officer of Speedway Motorsports, who announced the plan in the middle of Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Neon Garage along with track president Chris Powell and four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.

Drivers and other racing personalities will appear on the Speed network’s stage each week during SMI events. Speed’s stage is located at each SMI track in an area where fans don’t have to pay more than their ticket price to get into. Speed and Performance Racing Network personnel will conduct the fan forums.

Gordon, Kyle Busch and team owner Richard Childress will be part of the first “PRN Up to Speed” program at 9:30 a.m. local time here Sunday.

“Fans love to see and hear from their favorite drivers,” Smith said. “So we’re inviting the drivers, owners and other racing personalities to come out during our race weekends. …Giving our fans even more for their dollar is something we strive for every year.”

Gordon said he’s glad to see tracks working to find the most efficient ways to help get the drivers and fans together. The struggling racing economy is spurring this kind of effort, but Gordon said he hopes that’s not the only reason it’s being done.

“If the economy turns around six months from now I hope we keep doing these things because the fans deserve it,” he said.

It’s easy for fans to say that drivers doing something like this is the least they can do for the fans, but that’s not true. The least the drivers can do is nothing, and it takes an effort for drivers like Busch and Gordon to go out four hours before running a 285-lap race to talk to fans. No, they’re not moving mountains. But they are trying to do what they can to help out and that’s a good thing.

The Neon Garage concept in use at this track is pretty darn cool, to be honest. It’d cost a bunch of money to redo current tracks like this one or the FanZone at Daytona, but if there’s ever another track built for use by NASCAR’s top series that new track’s infield has to look something like the one here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the Road with "The King"

LAS VEGAS – If I told you there’s nothing between Fontana, Calif., and Las Vegas, I’d be lying. There are several towns, like Victorville and Barstow and Baker.

There’s the Zzyzx Road exit, too. Apparently that’s pronounced Zie-zix – it rhymes with “Isaac” and not “physics.” (Google is a wonderful thing).

But it was about 225 miles from where I was Tuesday morning to where I was going, and maybe 25 miles of that seems inhabitable. The rest was highway and high desert.

What made my drive challenging is that somehow I managed to get what might be the only rental car in use in America today without cruise control. What made my drive bearable, though, was “Richard Petty’s Audio Scrapbook.”

The scrapbook is four audio CDs, each about an hour long. I got through three of them on the ride over to Vegas and will finish the fourth one off going back and forth the to the track this weekend.

The guys who did this project did exactly the right thing by not overthinking the process. It’s legendary Motor Racing Network anchor and long-time Petty family friend Barney Hall sitting down with The King and with Dale Inman, Richard’s long-time crew chief, and having them talk and tell stories.

Bobby Allison, David Pearson and Richard’s wife, Lynda, also join in from time to time. One of my favorite tracks so far was the one where Lynda talked about the first time she met Richard. Who knew that in high school the future seven-time NASCAR champion carried his school’s bass drum around and helped make sure the cheerleaders didn’t do cheers for defense while their team had the ball?

This is the kind of thing I hope somebody at the future NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte has the good sense to turn into a regular feature of that museum. At least once a month, race fans ought to be able to go to the hall and listen to a legend tell racing tales.

Not everything in the “Richard Petty Audio Scrapbook” is fun and games. Petty talks about the incident he had in Dallas, Ga., when he was drag racing for a season after NASCAR banned the “hemi” engine. Petty’s car veered off the track and through a chain-link fence into a crowd of spectators. An 8-year-old boy was killed.

Petty and his wife also talk emotionally about the loss of their grandson, Adam, who was killed in a wreck during a practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000.

But there are many good moments for Petty to talk about, too. His conversation with Pearson about their rivalry and their most memorable races is classic.

“Richard Petty’s Audio Scrapbook” is available at book stores. You can also order it at or by calling (877) 543-PETTY. Autographed copies are available on line for the price of $43.43.

And if you don’t understand the significance of that price, these CDs probably aren’t for you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Up front is where focus belongs

LAS VEGAS – One of the big topics on “The Morning Drive” on Sirius NASCAR Radio this week has been how television coverage of races concentrates too much on selected cars and doesn’t “give” enough time to everybody in the field.


Folks, this is not community tee ball where everybody gets to play. This is the big leagues of auto racing. Sprint Cup is the biggest deal there is in American motorsports. It’s a meritocracy. Your driver isn’t going to be “given” coverage, he has to earn it.

There are two ways to earn coverage. First, pass somebody. Run up front, contend for wins and get them, make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Second, be somebody. Have a story that’s compelling. Move the needle when it comes to the fans. Make people care about you.

Every second during a televised race where they’re showing me a battle for 26th what I know they’re telling me is that the racing up front is bad. I don’t CARE who’s running 26th unless it’s somebody who for the past 20 weeks has finished 10th or better.

If Matt Kenseth is running last this week at Las Vegas after winning at Daytona and California, that’s news. If "Your Name Here" is running 43rd and nobody is surprised by that, he’ll get on camera when he’s being lapped and he ought to be glad that’s the only time his name might be mentioned.

It’s not up to Fox or ESPN or TNT (or, for that matter, the Charlotte Observer) to help somebody get and/or keep a sponsor. Heck, if you ask me television goes too far overboard as it is to try to “showcase” sponsorship. Of course, they get a check for just about everything they do in that regard. If a reader found out I was taking $200 a week to make sure I mention a certain sponsor then that reader would go crazy – and he’d be right to.

Besides, I think the whole premise of this argument is flawed. Television did a great job covering the AJ Allmendinger, Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs stories at Daytona. Fox tries hard to keep up with what Larry McReynolds calls “comers and goers” during a race. No, a guy running 19th doesn’t get as much air time as the leader or a former champion, but he shouldn’t, either.

Monday, February 23, 2009

An update or two from the Left Coast

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- Monday was laundry day for your correspondent, who'll make the drive back over the mountains to Las Vegas Tuesday to move into position for the season's third Sprint Cup/Nationwide weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

That means I won't be back in Charlotte for the press conference and noon Tuesday formally announcing the plans for an United States-based Formula One team. That press conference will be held at the Speed cable television network's studios and carried live on that channel.

I've talked to Ken Anderson, who along with Peter Windsor are to be the "principals" of that team in F1 terminology, one time on the telephone when he confirmed the rumors that this announcement was coming up. That was two weeks ago while I was in Daytona and since then I've had probably 10 e-mails from people who want me to get them in touch with Anderson so they can go to work for the F1 team. I also had a couple of people who sell real estate looking for contacts so they could offer buildings that now stand idle.

I don't think they believed me when I tell them that I've only had that one conversation and everything I know I've put in the paper. Today's announcement should provide at least a few more details.

What it will more likely do is set off more speculation about who might be chosen to drive for an American F1 team. The focus of this new team, Anderson told me, was going to be American and that would mean American drivers. Danica Patrick's name, predictably, already came up and she shot that down. I asked AJ Allmendinger about it Friday at California and he seemed amused by the question, but he also said that he'd be a fool to say absolutely not when as of right now he doesn't have a full-time ride for 2009.

By 5 p.m. Tuesday, I suspect somebody will have spun up a rumor about a prominent Cup driver or two. Kyle Busch was supposed to go to Japan late last year to take one of Toyota's F1 cars for a spin. That fell through, but the fact that Busch would be interested in touching the wheel might be enough to set some people off.

Inside the NASCAR circles this week, I heard a lot of skepticism about the USF1 idea. These guys know how tough it is to find sponsorship for NASCAR teams right now and scoff at the notion that Anderson and Windsor can find the money -- upwards of $100 million -- and the sheer number of smart racers it would take to get a team from idea to reality in time to go racing in 2010.

I guess we'll have to see about all of that, won't we?

On another quick matter, people listening to The Morning Drive on Sirius NASCAR Radio Monday morning got a little "bonus" coverage when one of our commercials didn't fire as it should and co-host Mike Bagley and I were still on the air when we didn't know we were.

We were continuing a conversation we'd had with a caller about the idea of pulling races away from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Mike was saying how fans out here don't have as many places they can choose to go as fans back east, and I was telling him that I have no problem with the fans out here. I think they're good fans, but they just know better than to expect good racing at a track which hasn't given them that.

At one point when I thought we were off-air, I said, "This track sucks. It stinks. It blows chunks." When the show was over, I got calls warning me that went out over the air. My reaction was "So?" It's not like I didn't write that two or three times over the weekend.

During Sunday night's Cup race, Darrell Waltrip was talking about how an engineer once told him he dealt with drivers who had multiple complaints about their race cars. "Fix the first problem first," was what DW said. The idea is that the first thing the driver complains about is the problem that needs to be addressed first. Fix that, and some of the other problems might go away, too.

In terms of racing in Southern California, NASCAR faces several challenges. The crowds have not been good. There has been difficulty finding the right marketing message. But the "first" problem here is this track is wrong. It's a 2-mile track and it seems like it's almost a mile wide. A driver can spin here and not find anything to hit. The leader becomes Superman in clean air.

Fix the race track. No, don't bank what you've got and put restrictor plates on the cars. That's dumb. Make the track 1 or 1-1/4 miles and put progressive banking in it. Put on a decent race or two and then see if that doesn't help you fill up the seats and get more attention from the SoCal media.

Fix the first problem first.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Edwards on Nationwide race pole

FONTANA, Calif. -- Carl Edwards ran a lap at 179.635 mph Saturday morning to win the pole for the Stater Brothers 300 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Kyle Busch was second fastest with Michael McDowell third, Mike Bliss fourth and Greg Biffle fifth.
The Cup Series cars don't get onto the track until 5:15 p.m. Eastern for their final practice before Sunday's Auto Club 500. That will be after the Camping World Truck Series race, where Busch also starts from the pole.
The weather looks good for the rest of the day. There are some high clouds but the sun will be popping in and out as the afternoon goes on. Tomorrow's forecast still looks pretty good. There was some worry that rain could be moving in late in the day on Sunday, but the latest updated forecasts indicate that's probably not going to happen.
In case you missed it late Friday, Brian Vickers' team decided that it needed to change engines in the No. 83 Toyota after Vickers won the pole for Sunday's race. Vickers is still officially the pole-winner for this race, but he will have to drop to the rear of the field for the start of the Auto Club 500. That means the inside line will move up, putting Jamie McMurray on the inside of Row 1 when the green flag flies at 6:20 p.m. Eastern.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hendrick teammates top California practice

FONTANA, Calif. -- Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet was easily the fastest in Friday's first "open" practice session of the season at Auto Club Speedway.

The three-time defending Sprint Cup champion ran a lap at 181.892 mph to top the chart in the session prior to qualifying for Sunday's race. Time trials begin at 6:40 p.m. (Eastern).

Jeff Gordon, Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was second fastest at 180.873 mph. Greg Biffle, David Reutimann and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.

Travis Kvapil was fastest among the go-or-go-home cars. He was 15th fastest overall, just ahead of AJ Allmendinger and Tony Stewart.

There are 48 cars here, which means five won't make the race. If nothing changes from practice, Tony Raines, Todd Bodine, Sterling Marlin, Mike Garvey and David Starr would fail to qualify.

The slowest car among those in the top 35 was the No. 20 Chevrolet driven by rookie Joey Logano.

Exploring another side of the NASCAR drug policy

FONTANA, Calif. – It’s hard to take any position that even suggests opposition to drug testing in any manner, and it’s hard to try to have any kind of nuanced opinion on the matter, either.

Like a lot of things in our culture, people want to keep things simple on this issue. If you’re using drugs, you should be punished. If you’re not using drugs, you should be absolutely willing to be tested at any time for any reason. Otherwise, you must have “something to hide.”

On Thursday NASCAR revealed the name of a Sprint Cup team member who had been suspended for violating the sport’s substance abuse policy following new, stricter drug testing implemented this year.

On the one hand, you have to understand why NASCAR released the name. One goal of any drug policy is deterrence, and the idea of having yourself identified as a violator would seem to have that impact. If you don’t want to have your name announced, don’t use drugs.

Another reason is that if NASCAR hadn’t announced the name and then someone had found out about the suspension, it might have been a much bigger story than it is.

But there is another side to this.

We don’t know what substance it was that this person was found to have used that violated the policy. NASCAR hasn’t come out with a specific list of what’s OK and what’s not, and there are people in the garage who’re scared to take just about anything for fear of winding up being singled out as a “druggie.”

What if you’ve got a runny nose and you decided to take cold medicine? Will that trigger a positive if you happen to be selected for random testing that day?

Another question is whether the true intent of a policy should be punishment instead of treatment. If a crew member tests positive, should the first action be to suspend him or her indefinitely or should it be to try to work with that team employee to address whatever situation he or she might be in?

I know that a lot of you will say that the first thing ought to be getting an offender out of the sport, and if you’re talking about a driver or somebody who has his or her hands on the race car that’s going to be on the track with 42 others, then there’s a safety issue involved. So it is hard to defend someone who tests positive. That’s not my intent.

But I am just wondering if it wouldn’t be more productive, in the long run, to have a policy that doesn’t have “indefinite suspension” as the penalty for a first offense. Maybe the first offense should trigger some sort of mandatory counseling and/or treatment program, paid for by NASCAR, to address the issue while not necessarily turning every positive test into a media event.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Academy Award for scheduling ... NASCAR!

The next two weekends are, I believe, particularly important for NASCAR in a lot of ways.

Last year's Daytona 500 went pretty well. The season got off to a pretty good start with the 50th running of the sport's biggest race and there was some momentum as we headed out West to Auto Club Speedway and then on to Las Vegas.

Then, the California race weekend was a disaster. A combination of bad luck with the weather, bad decisions by NASCAR and just plain bad leadership by the people running the California track made for a simply awful weekend that lasted well into the evening on Monday with both the Nationwide and Cup series races being completed on that day.

Then came Las Vegas, where Carl Edwards won but then faced major penalties for a rules violation and Jeff Gordon had a scary wreck that exposed a weakness in the safety features that had been left incomplete when the Vegas track was redone. SAFER barriers were not in place on the wall that Gordon's car hit, and thankfully safety features of the new car helped prevent him from serious injury.

This year's season didn't get off to as good of a start as last year's did. The rain-shortened Daytona 500 left a lot of questions that fans would like to see answered. A lot of what happened was out of anyone's control, but the fact that the 500 started at 3:40 p.m. is not one of those things. The late start limited options on resuming the race after a rain delay and NASCAR needs to look very seriously at starting its races earlier as a result of the lessons taught by what happened Sunday evening.

That's why the start time for Sunday's race at California makes absolutely no sense. The start time is listed at 3 p.m. Pacific time, which is 6 p.m. Eastern. The green flag will probably more in the 6:15-6:20 range. That's pitiful.

There's no reason to start a race that late in the Pacific time zone, especially this weekend. The race won't be half over when the Academy Awards show comes on television. Why would Fox want to compete with the Oscars for viewers? I know you're thinking there's not a big crossover audience, but the idea of moving races around to get more viewers is to attract people who wouldn't automatically be inclined to watch. That's not happening against the Oscars.

It's like NASCAR is tone deaf. Fans are SCREAMING about the late time starts. Television networks pay a lot of money to the sport and their wishes should be considered. But those wishes shouldn't be outright commands. There's a balance and right now I think NASCAR's on the wrong side of the scale.

It's also important that we see some good racing over the next two weekends.

The car of tomorrow isn't going away, and the teams are still learning about it. But given the state of things in the NASCAR economy right now, two straight weeks of races where the leader can't be touched is the absolute worst thing the sport needs right now.

There is intrigue going into these two races. Without testing, nobody really knows how good any team is going to be. It could be that a team or two has found something in the offseason that will be so good they will even be surprised at how well their cars go. Other teams might try things that don't work. That could jumble things up, and NASCAR needs something like that.

NASCAR needs in the worst way two weekends' worth of nice weather, good racing and compelling storylines from its inital trip West this season.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Daytona rain left TV ratings bump high and dry

Nobody from NASCAR would ever come right out and say this, so I will. One factor behind why the plug was pulled so fast on Sunday night's Daytona 500 was television ratings.

Fox Sports announced the ratings results Tuesday and the race got a 9.2 national rating with a 19 share. That means 9.2 percent of all households were tuned to the race at an average point during the telecast, and that 19 percent of households where the television was in use was watching Daytona.

Fox points out that the average viewership of 16 million was higher than the average viewership for the Final Four (15.4 million viewers), Beijing Olympics (15.2 million), 2008 NBA Finals (14.9 million), Kentucky Derby (14.2 million) and the final round of The Masters (13.1 million) and US Open (12.1 million). Last year's Indianapolis 500 drew 7.2 million viewers.

But here's where the rain comes in. Last year's race got a 10.2 rating and had 17.8 million viewers. Part of that was because the rating grew from 10.4 to 12.1 in the final half-hour of racing. It stands to reason that more viewers would show up for the finish of the race. That's one reason the 500 was started at 3:40 p.m., so that it would end around 7 p.m. at the beginning of prime time.

This year, the rain came just after 6:30. The rating hadn't yet begun to build as rapidly as it might have. And when the racing stopped, Fox and NASCAR knew that people all across America were tuning out. Even if the race had restarted, it was going to be at least a couple of hours before it resumed because it would take that long to dry the track.

If Fox continued with its coverage through a rain delay of that length, viewership would have plummeted and the whole average rating would have dropped, too. By ending the broadcast as quickly as possible, Fox minimized the loss of ratings as much as it could.

Does that mean that somebody from Fox told NASCAR to pull the plug? Or even asked for that to happen? Not necessarily. But television is an important part of the NASCAR business equation, and the people making the call on whether the race would be resumed are part of the NASCAR business leadership. They understood that viewers were clicking away or would be if it appeared a long delay was in order.

NASCAR had plenty of other reasons to make the decision it did. There are a lot of bad things about a decision to resume a race at 10:30 or 11 p.m. -- or even later. You've got fans parked everywhere around the track and you need people to help them get out of there. You have major roads closed off in anticipation of the mass egress following a race. In this case you had information suggesting it might keep raining for a while, too. Television wasn't the only factor. It might not have even been a major factor. But it was a factor.

The race had the highest ratings in Greenville, S.C., with a 21.2. Greensboro was second at 19.9. Charlotte was sixth behind those two as well as Dayton, Indianapolis and Knoxville. The rating in Charlotte was a 15.6.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ticket deal for May races 'til 9 p.m. Tuesday

It took Atlanta Motor Speedway just 15 minutes to sell 1,000 at $17 each Monday morning to mark Matt Kenseth's Daytona 500 victory in the No. 17 Ford.

Now Lowe's Motor Speedway is stepping up with a Kenseth-related offer. From 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, the Charlotte track will sell five tickets to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 at the special price of five for $50. That offer is good for the first 1,700 tickets sold in that four-hour period.

"Matt won his first Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway and now he's notched another special win with the Daytona 500," said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway. "In honor of his season-opening win in the No. 17, we're keeping our ticket office open late."

The tickets are in the Jewel Box and Toyota Fourth Turn Terrace grandstands. Tickets are available at the Lowe's Motor Speedway ticket office from 5 - 9 p.m. or by calling (800) 455-FANS or (800) 455-3267. The first 50 fans who purchase the "5 for $50" special at the ticket office will receive a Matt Kenseth die-cast collectible car.

It can't be the Daytona 380

Charlotte Observer sportswriter Ron Green Jr. offers these thoughts on Sunday's Daytona 380, er, 500:

If the Daytona 500 is truly the biggest event in NASCAR racing, it can’t end prematurely because it’s raining.

They wouldn’t call the Super Bowl after three quarters because of lightning. They’d wait around until they could finish it.

The U.S. Open isn’t over until 72 holes (and sometimes 18 more) are complete, regardless of the weather and the inconvenience.

It rains all the time at Wimbledon but they wouldn’t call the championship match with someone leading two sets to one. Postpone it, sure. But end it? Nope.

I know the way the Daytona 500 ended Sunday night followed NASCAR’s rules, such as they are. But it’s not the Daytona 380, it’s the Daytona 500 and it’s a race on which legacies are supposedly made.

Who’s making the decisions, Bud Selig?

If it’s as big as everyone says it is – and I’m a fan of the Daytona 500 – it needs to be run to its proper conclusion.

Sure, it would be a royal pain to bring everyone back on Monday to run 48 laps. But it would be worth getting it right.

This isn’t meant to take anything away from Matt Kenseth, but the guy led one green-flag lap and happened to be in front when rain clouds arrived. Had they run the last 48 laps, imagine what might have happened with Dale Jr. out there.

It’s one thing to cut short a race at Richmond or Pocono.

But not the biggest race of the year. There’s a reason it’s called the Daytona 500.

No excuse for what Dale Jr. did

This crash during Sunday's Daytona 500, started when Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) bumped Brian Vickers (83), took out several of the race's top contenders.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There are no excuses for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

He messed up Sunday. Actually, he messed up several times. He missed his pit stall. He stopped his car on the outside line of his pit box. He put himself and his team in a deep, deep hole and he was doing whatever he could try to dig himself out of it.

And then he really messed up.

On Lap 146, heading down the backstretch, Earnhardt was trying to put himself in position to be the first car a lap down. He made a move to the inside and Brian Vickers, also battling for that same position, saw him coming. Vickers, doing the same thing all drivers do in restrictor plate races, moved down the track to block There's a double yellow line down there, and nobody can go below that to make a legal pass. Not even Earnhardt.

Earnhardt's move was thwarted. His only real option was to back out of his throttle and either try to push Vickers up past the cars to their outside or try to go around Vickers on the high side.
But Earnhardt took another path. He went below the double-yellow and put himself in a position to do something that caused a problem. Which is what he did.

Here's the point. What Vickers did was a racing maneuever. That fact that his car is where it was had nothing to do with him making an error in decision or judgment.

The same cannot be said for Earnhardt. He messed up. He made the mistake. Nobody is saying he tried to wreck half the cars that had the best chance to win the race. Doesn't matter. That's what happened.

And he's going to have to take the heat for it.

His fans have already started making excuses for him and that's fine. That's what fans do. But this one is on Dale Jr.

The question now is what he and his team do about it. Daytona is over and the results are in. Now it's time to go to California and Las Vegas and the races beyond that and funnel the frustrations over what happened in the 500 into something productive.

People are going to argue about what happened in Daytona until there's another race for them to argue about. If Earnhardt starts winning, the error he made Sunday won't amount to much in the long run.

But for now, its THE topic. And for now, this one's on him.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

First Keith Urban, then an online chat

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It was raining when I finally got out of bed this morning in Daytona, but at the time that was the least of my problems.
I was supposed to be in the infield at the track at 8:45 a.m. at ESPN's pit studio to do a thing on "Outside the Lines." The show started at 9 and I was supposed to be on live at 9:09.
When I opened my eyes, the clock in my condo said 8:09. That could not be right. I had set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. but, being the genius I am, forgot to turn the actual alarm on. So the clock was not lying.
I took a drive-by shower and decided not to shave. I figured a little bit of stubble would be better than new nicks for those viewing in high-definition. I dressed, bolted for the car and fought my way into the track by 8:40. It was pure luck that I got there that fast. I made it to the studio just a couple of minutes late and did my little deal on the air.
Not the kind of stress you need on race morning in Daytona.
It was raining pretty good out on the beach when I left but here at the track it hasn't really rained a lot as of 12:20. There's rain all around us on the radar, and there's no telling if we'll get the race in on time without delays or anything. It just depends on how lucky we get. I am trying to stay optimistic.
The highlight of the morning has been Keith Urban's appearance in the media center. Instead of just doing a press conference, he came in and did two songs and took question. He sang the old America song "Sister Golden Hair," took some questions, and then sang "Sweet Thing," his own new song.
Unlike a lot of people who make a living in the music business these days, this guy can carry a tune and he plays the guitar well. It was actually cool and he seems like a nice guy. Nicole Kidman was in the room, too, and somebody asked Urban what his favorite racing movie is. Kidman, of course, was in "Days of Thunder" with her ex-husband, Tom Cruise, who also is here at the track today.
Urban was very clever with his answer. He paused for a minute and said, "Cars." Which, of course, is a very good racing movie.
On the subject of racing, I was honored to shake the hand of a true racing legend in the media center today. Mr. Raymond Parks, the car owner for 1949 NASCAR champion Red Byron, was here and I got a chance to tell him how he honors us with his presence.
We're still holding our breath here hoping the rain stays away enough for us to have a Daytona 500 today. I am scheduled for a live online chat at 1 p.m. on, so come find us over there.
Happy race day, I hope.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Are you 'NASCAR smarter' than a 4-year-old?

As the day finally arrives to begin the new Sprint Cup season with the Daytona 500, you’ve already heard the preseason predictions from just about every kind of “expert” you can think of.
Except, perhaps, from a 4-year-old.
So, just to leave no stone unturned, we present the 2009 NASCAR forecast from Jack, a 4-year-old from Denver, Colo., whose grandfather lives in Charlotte and whose parents contacted me this week to tell me how much their son loves racing.
Jack has been following NASCAR since he could walk. He’s got posters all over his room and he already knows how to get to racing sites on the Internet.
Before the season last year, he predicted which drivers would make the Chase and he got eight out of 12 right. I think I got nine last year.
This year, Jack believes that there will be three drivers in the Chase who were not there last year – Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.
He thinks Carl Edwards will not only win the Cup Series championship but will sweep his way to the Nationwide Series title as well. Jack has Ron Hornaday as the Truck Series champion.
Jack also predicts that Joey Logano will be the rookie of the year and that David Ragan will win his first race.
As for big surprises this year, Jack said he thinks Ryan Newman will have big-time success with his new team at Stewart-Haas racing, that Jamie McMurray will go to Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season and that Jimmie Johnson will become a father.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sad news from outside the Daytona bubble

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Speedweeks at Daytona can become an exercise in total immersion if you let it.
This is the 13th year I've been coming down here and the 10th year that I've been married, and I learned long ago to make your Valentine's Day plans idiot-proof so you don't let them slide in the middle of all this mess.
One bad thing about the disconnect is that you can miss things you wish you hadn't, and if not for the kindness of people back home that's what would have happened to me about the passing of Frank Heafner.
Mr. Heafner, 86, died Thursday at the Cleveland Regional Medical Center.
"The impact that he had on early day racing was formidable," H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler said. "He gave Bobby Isaac his first winning ride and he was known for the great flathead Fords he built that won so many races at places like Greenville, Columbia, Cowpens, Gaffney, Robinwood and so on. He also built flatheads for Ralph Earnhardt before Ralph started building them himself."
Wheeler said that in the 1980s he located in Illinois the car in which Isaac first won. Wheeler took the car to Mr. Heafner in the Cherryville area and Mr. Heafner restored it in Isaac's honor. Bill Elliott drove that restored car on a makeshift dirt track Wheeler had made in the woods near Lowe's Motor Speedwqay for a story it Car & Driver magazine.
The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Crouse United Methodist Church. Burial will be in City Memorial Cemetery, Cherryville.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Almirola, Kenseth, Gordon fastest in 2nd Cup session

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Aric Almirola's lap at 191. 436 mph topped the speed chart in Wednesday's second Sprint Cup practice session at Daytona International Speedway.
Matt Kenseth was second best at 191.347 mph with Jeff Gordon third. Kyle Busch also topped 191 mph on a lap during his afternoon run.
Michael Waltrip got loose and slid across the track into Jamie McMurray's Ford during the session. Both cars were damaged but it was not immediately clear if either would have to go to backup cars. If they do, they would start at the rear of the field for today's Gatorade Duels.

Dodges fast in Cup practice

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The fastest Dodge in Daytona 500 qualifying on Sunday was Reed Sorenson's No. 43, which was only 28th fastest. But things were looking up for the Dodge boys after drafting practice Wednesday morning.
Kasey Kahne was fastest at 190.944 mph in his No. 9 Dodge with Kurt Busch second in the No. 2 Dodge and Sam Hornish Jr. third best in the No. 77.
Casey Mears had the fastest Chevrolet, fourth best overall. Michael Waltrip had the fastest Toyota, fifth best overall, one spot ahead of rookie Joey Logano. Logano's crew, however, had to work on some cosmetic damage to the No. 20 Toyota after Logano brushed the wall.
Matt Kenseth was seventh fastest and best among the Fords. Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin and David Stremme rounded out the top 10.
Mike Skinner was fastest among the go-or-go-home cars in the No. 23 Chevrolet at 188.770 mph.
Ryan Newman apparently lost an engine in his Chevrolet during the session.
The first Truck Series practice of the season is about to begin on another sunny, warm day at Datyona.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Time for the rumble to return at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Speedweeks lull ends Wednesday with cars back on the track at Daytona International Speedway.
The garage was actually a busy place Tuesday with Nationwide and Truck series teams unpacking their haulers and getting their cars through the inspection process before they get on track.
The weather here has been spectacular since about midday Friday when it finally warmed up. It was sunny all day Tuesday with balmy breezes. As I write this, I am looking out the window and can see a gentleman chasing what looks like about an 18-month-old boy along the edge of the surf. They let cars drive up and down the beach here and there has been a steady stream of traffic out there much of the day.
I haven’t been down to the sand because I’ve been fighting (unsuccessfully, I might add) the Daytona Crud for the past few days. Going to the laundry when you feel good is an unpleasant chore. Going to laundry sick is, well, a suckfest.
I always look forward to Thursday during Speedweeks because the Gatorade Duels usually wind up being fascinating races.
The top two finishers among the go-or-go-home cars race their way into the Daytona 500 field, and then after that you go back to speeds to determine who else makes the show. It’s not being overly dramatic to say that there are at least eight to 10 teams here who want to try to run a full season here but know that if they don’t make the Daytona 500 field they’re just about dead in the water at that point.
One question I get asked all of the time is why a Martin Truex Jr. or a Mark Martin would even bother to run in the 150-mile races. They have front-row spots for the 500 assured, so they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. The answer is that these guys are racers, and every competition is a way to measure yourself. Yes, the Gatorade Duels wind up being a great test under racing conditions, but that’s only a small part of it. If there’s a race to be run, there’s a race to be won. If you don’t have that mentality you never get to this level to start with.
* * *
Sad news from the world of freestyle motocross racing this week as Jeremy Lusk, a 24-year-old California, died Tuesday from head injuries he suffered while trying to land a backflip in competition in Costa Rica.
Lusk, who won a gold medal at the 2008 X Games, was hurt Saturday when he failed to complete a rotation while attempting a backflip and slammed head-first into the dirt.
* * *
Atlanta Motor Speedway is playing “Racing Roulette” with the price of some tickets for its Kobalt Tools 500 on March 8.
Beginning at 9 a.m. Monday, fans can buy up to two tickets for the Atlanta race for the price of the winning car number in Sunday’s Daytona 500 until the first 1,000 are sold. After that, you can buy one ticket for the regular price and get the second for the 500 winner’s discount price. That offer is good until 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Last year Ryan Newman won the race in car No. 12 and AMS sold the 1,000 quickly. This year, the No. 1 car of Martin Truex Jr. is on the pole and the No. 5 of Mark Martin starts second, so there could be some real bargains. Should David Reutimann win in the No. 00, the first 1,000 would be free. But if Carl Edwards wins in the No. 99, the price won’t go up – the specially priced tickets will go for no more than $50 no matter who wins.
For more information or to purchase Racing Roulette tickets following the Daytona 500, fans can visit, call (877) 926-7849 or go through Ticketmaster.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The baffling calculus of Daytona 500 qualifying

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is beginning as I write this early Sunday afternoon, and with any luck I will be finished trying to explain how things work for this race.
I am going to REALLY over-explain this because it’s so convoluted. I’d ask you try to stay with me but I know that’s not possible. Not because you can’t but because there’s no good way to explain it.
The first thing to know is there are now 56 cars entered. James Hylton won’t attempt to qualify because he didn’t complete a lap during Saturday’s practice sessions. That means that each of Thursday’s Gatorade Duels will have 28 cars.
OK, as we start this remember that you have to separate things when it comes to 500 qualifying. You can’t worry about the starting positions in either the Gatorade Duels or the Daytona 500 until you first determine who’s going to be in those races.
In today’s qualifying, the two fastest cars – no matter which ones they are – will get the front-row starting spots for the Daytona 500. The fastest car will also start from the pole in the first Gatorade Duel. The second fastest car will be on the pole for the second of Thursday’s 150-mile qualifying races.
OK, now it starts getting tricky.
For the cars in last year’s top 35 in car owner points, their standing in those points determines which 150 they’ll be in. Cars in odd-numbered positions will be in the first Duel, cars in even-numbered positions in the second.
You should know, though, that Juan Pablo Montoya and Aric Almirola have effectively switched points from last year. Montoya now has the points earned by the No. 8 team last year and Almirola has the points from the No. 42. That means Montoya is 14th and Almirola is 25th.
Also, the No. 41 team is not around this year. No other team has its points. It was 33rd last year, so that means Robby Gordon moves up to 33rd, Scott Speed is 34th and Marcos Ambrose is 35th.
So that means the first 150 will include Jimmie Johnson; Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Almirola, John Andretti, Michael Waltrip, Sam Hornish Jr., Robby Gordon and Ambrose. If one of those drivers is second fastest today, he moves to the second Duel.
The second Gatorade Duel will have Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Montoya, Martin Truex Jr., David Stremme, Brian Vickers, Reed Sorenson, Elliott Sadler, David Reutimann, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Speed. If one of those drivers wins the pole today, he moves to the first Duel.
Now comes the fun part.
If the two-front row spots are filled by top 35 cars, that will leave 18 cars in one race and 17 in the other. If that happens, the fastest go-or-go-home car would go into the second race to even things out. The remaining cars would then fill the next spots in each duel, alternating between them. The second-fastest go-or-go-home car would go in the first duel, the next fastest in the second and so on.
If the two front-row spots are filled with go-or-go-homers, you’d have the same thing but with 19 cars in one race and 18 in the other.
If a go-or-go-home car gets a front-row spot, that would leave 18 cars in each duel and the Duel fields would be filled by speeds with the next fastest go-or-go-homer in the first Duel, the next fastest in the second Duel and so on.
When all of that is done, you have 28 cars in each duel. At that point, the speeds of those 28 cars relative to each other determines how they’ll start each Duel.
From that point, it’s all about who makes the 500. But my head hurts already and there are cars on the track. We’ll save that part for another day.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Elliott backs it up in second practice

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- If anybody wondered whether Bill Elliott had drafting help or had something else going on when he led Saturday's first Daytona 500 practice session, Elliott answered that question in the second practice.
Elliott went out for one run in the final session and ran 187.950 mph to top the speed chart once again in the No. 21 Wood Brothers-owned Ford.
Does that make Elliott the favorite to win the pole Sunday afternoon?
"You can't tell about this business," Elliott said. "We got to not make any mistakes and see what tomorrow brings."
The Wood Brothers had a good car in practice last year, too, but failed to make the Daytona 500 field. The team believes it has learned something from that.
"I felt nearly this good a year ago standing here at this time." team co-owner Len Wood said. "But we managed to mess it up for qualifying. We burned up a gear. We have tried to go over it a number of times. We've talked about not beating ourselves this year because last year we beat ourselves."
Only the front-row starting spots for the Feb. 15 Daytona 500 are officially up for grabs today. Beyond that, however, the three fastest go-or-go-home cars will also ensure themselves of Daytona 500 spots with their speeds.
Martin Truex Jr. was second fastest in Saturday's late session with Dale Earnhardt Jr. third, Kyle Busch fourth and Ryan Newman fifth. Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, David Reutimann, Aric Almirola and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10.

Elliott, Labonte lead first Daytona 500 practice

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Wood Brothers didn't make the field for the Daytona 500, but if Saturday's first practice for this year's race is any indication that might not be a problem this year.
Bill Elliott ran a lap at 187.645 mph in the No. 21 Ford in the two-hour practice and wound up first on the speed chart as the session ended. Elliott has won the Daytona 500 pole four times in his career, the last time in 2001 in a Dodge.
The Wood Brothers have had the No. 1 starter in 11 races at Daytona International Speedway, including seven in a row in a span from 1969 through 1971 that included No. 1 starting spots for Daytona 500 qualifying races.
Bobby Labonte was second fastest in the opening 500 practice at 187.414 mph in the No. 96 Ford. Both of those cars are powered by Roush-Yates built engines.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five in the session. Rookie Joey Logano had the sixth best time.
Sunday's qualifying will fill only the top two positions in the field for the Feb. 15 race. Beyond that, however, the three fastest cars among the go-or-go-home entrants will ensure themselves of being in the 500 once the field is set after Thursday's Gatorade Duels.
Elliott, Tony Stewart and Scott Riggs had the three fastest laps by go-or-go-home cars in the first practice.
Today's second practice is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.

Daytona 500 quaifying order is out

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet is scheduled to be the first car on the track Sunday in qualifying for the Daytona 500.
The draw for qualifying order was held Saturday morning, with Gordon's team getting the first slot. Kasey Kahne, David Stremme and Bobby Labonte will be next. Jimmie Johnson is scheduled to go out ninth. Carl Edwards has the No. 17 spot and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is set to go out 30th.
Cars in the top 35 go first followed by the 22 go-or-go-home cars. Brad Keselowski goes out first among the cars that have to race their way into next Sunday's race. James Hylton is the last car scheduled to go out.
Practice for Daytona 500 has begun at the track. Fifteen minutes into the two-hour session we've had 25 cars make their first runs. Bill Elliott's Ford is at the top of the list at 10:50 am with Dale Earnhardt Jr. second.
Here's the qualifying order for tomorrow:
1. Jeff Gordon; 2. Kasey Kahne; 3. David Stremme; 4. Bobby Labonte; 5. Kurt Busch, 6; Brian Vickers; 7. John Andretti; 8. Mark Martin; 9. Jimmie Johnson; 10. Robby Gordon; 11. Juan Pablo Montoya; 12. Kevin Harvick; 13. Aric Almirola; 14. Greg Biffle; 15; Scott Speed; 16. Reed Sorenson; 17. Carl Edwards; 18. CaseyMears; 19. Michael Waltrip; 20. David Reutimann; 21. Jeff Burton; 22. Paul Menard; 23. Ryan Newman; 24. Jamie McMurray; 25. David Ragan; 26. Elliott Sadler; 27. Sam Hornish Jr.; 28. Martin Truex Jr.; 29. Martin Ambrose; 30. Dale Earnhardt Jr.; 31. Denny Hamlin; 32. Matt Kenseth; 33. Joey Logano; 34. Clint Bowyer; 35. Kyle Busch.
(go-or-go-home cars)
36. Brad Keselowski; 37. Jeremy Mayfield; 38. Mike Garvey; 39. Kirk Shelmerdine; 40. Mike Skinner; 41. Travis Kvapil; 42. Mike Wallace; 43. Tony Stewart; 44. Bill Elliott; 45. Geoff Bodine; 46. Kelly Bires; 47. Terry Labonte; 48. Boris Said; 49. Derrike Cope; 50. Regan Smith; 51. Joe Nemechek. 52. AJ Allmendinger; 53. Norm Benning; 54. Tony Raines; 55. Carl Long; 56. Scott Riggs; 57. James Hylton.

Friday, February 06, 2009

First practice over at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The first Budweiser Shootout practice is over at Daytona International Speedway.
There were no incidents, even though a cars did get a little wiggly a time or two during the 45-minute session. There was a caution near the very end of the session when a piece off David Reutimann's Toyota flew off.
Lap speeds are pretty much pointless in a restrictor-plate pracitce because it depends so much on who is where and who is pushing whom in the draft. But for the record, the fastest lap was turned by Kyle Busch at 191.453 mph in his No. 18 Toyota. Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Reed Sorenson, AJ Allmendinger and Dale Jr. were next on the list.
There's another one-hour practice to come at 6:30 p.m.

Daytona entry list comes in at 57

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Despite the tough economy, nobody ever really expected there to be a shortage of Sprint Cup cars for the Daytona 500. And there won't be one.
The final entry list for the Feb. 15 race came out Friday with 57 cars on it. That means 14 of them will not make the field for the 51st running of NASCAR's biggest event.
There will be 22 cars competing for eight open spots beyond the top 35. Time trials on Sunday will begin the process of determining who's in and who's out, but the lineup won't officially be set until after Thursday's Gatorade Duels.
Here's a list of the 22 go-or-go-home cars that are entered:
No. 08 Boris Said (Ford)
No. 09 Brad Keselowski (Chevrolet)
No. 14 Tony Stewart (Chevrolet) -- Stewart will be first in line for the former champion's provisional if needed.
No. 21 Bill Elliott (Ford)
No. 23 Mike Skinner (Chevrolet)
No. 27 Kirk Shelmerdine (Toyota)
No. 28 Travis Kvapil (Ford)
No. 36 Scott Riggs (Toyota)
No. 37 Tony Raines (Dodge)
No. 41 Jeremy Mayfield (Toyota)
No. 44 AJ Allmendinger (Dodge)
No. 46 Carl Long (Dodge)
No. 51 Kelly Bires (Dodge)
No. 57 Norm Benning (Chevrolet)
No. 60 James Hylton (Dodge)
No. 64 Geoff Bodine (Toyota)
No. 66 Terry Labonte (Toyota)
No. 71 Mike Wallace (Chevrolet)
No. 73 Mike Garvey (Dodge)
No. 75 Derrike Cope (Dodge)
No. 78 Regan Smith (Chevrolet)
No. 87 Joe Nemechek (Toyota)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

For sale or not for sale? Point is it should be one or the other

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Here’s my complaint about all the points swapping that went on with Sprint Cup teams over the past few weeks.
Points should either be for sale or they should not be for sale. I don’t care which way you do it, but pick one or the other.
NASCAR decided to draw the line at allowing Phoenix Racing to “acquire” the points from the No. 41 team to give to Brad Keselowski this year. The plan was to run Keselowski, who’s not even in Cup full-time yet, in No. 09 Chevrolets as a fifth team under the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing banner.
So James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Racing, would have been listed as the owner of a team that was owned last year by Chip Ganassi but would have been run this year by the merged Ganassi-Teresa Earnhardt team.
Keselowski, though, drives in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports and is in the pipeline to be a Cup driver at Hendrick Motorsports down the road. The fact of the matter is that any car Keselowski drives in a Cup race this year is going to be built by Hendrick Motorsports – no matter whose name is on the title.
All of that, apparently, was too much for even NASCAR to let slide.
Now NASCAR is perfectly OK with two other charades.
Bill Davis sold his racing operation to Mike Held and Marty Gaunt, who said they don’t plan to run the No. 22 in 2009. In a separate deal, Davis is now a minority partner in the No. 77 team in a deal called Penske Championship Racing. That means the points from the No. 22 go to Sam Hornish Jr.
So if the No. 77 team gets fined this year, Bill Davis is going to be the owner who’s fined. How much do you want to bet Roger Penske will write that check if that happens?
What’s even more ridiculous is that Clint Bowyer is in the top 35 with a new team because of a partnership between Richard Childress and Bobby Ginn.
Bobby Ginn? If Ginn had to buy into the team at RCR (like that happened), I sure hope Childress didn’t take a check.
It’s a joke. NASCAR tried to spin this as a way for people like Bill Davis to get some value out of what he put into racing. I have no problem with that. But if NASCAR is going to let a car owner treat owner points like an commodity for sale, then say that and let people make outright deals and be done with it.
Pick a side and stay on it. That’s all I ask.
* * *
NASCAR media day had a few interesting moments.
Carl Edwards told us that he went to an auction in central Missouri and wound up buying a 425-acre farm. “Somebody said, ‘Hey, there is this land being auctioned off, and I said, ‘Let’s go check it out.’ We get there, and I ended up buying it,” Edwards said. Edwards said he’ll probably have beans, or corn, planted on some of the land. Some of it he’ll use for hunting with his friends. Edwards said he’s not really much of a hunter, but “I like sitting there and looking.”
Tony Stewart said he’s has invited A.J. Foyt to come to this year’s Daytona 500. Stewart is using Foyt’s traditional number, 14, on the cars he’ll drive and own this year. There is a stipulation, however. “A.J. is not allowed near any laptops,” Stewart said. Foyt once famously destroyed a laptop computer on pit road at Indianapolis.
Jimmie Johnson said he got the stitches – five of them – out of the finger he cut while using a knife to try to put a hole in his fire suit during the Rolex 24. Johnson was trying to make a hole for a cooling hose. “I had the bright idea to flip it (the knife) over and then I should have realized, ‘You know you’re going to cut yourself why are you doing this but I didn’t and still tried to do it and it went through it,’” Johnson said.

Bristol adds celebrity/legends race

Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson and Junior Johnson racing again at Bristol?
That’s going to happen on Saturday, March 21, at the first “Saturday Night Special” during Food City 500 weekend.
Legendary drivers will be paired with celebrities in the 50-lap race that will benefit charity and give fans a stroll back down memory lane.
Celebrities will start the race and run 15 laps. After a break, the racing legends will take over and run the final 35 laps. The legends will start in the same order their celebrity partners finish the first segment.
Drivers will be in late model stock cars. The winning team will have $25,000 donated to a charity of their choice. Second place is worth $10,000 for charity and the other entrants will each have $5,000 donated to their charities.
“We made a decision over the winter to make what we believe is the best fan experience in race even better,” Bristol track president and general manager Jeff Byrd said. “We believe having these celebrated drivers back on a track where they all have won in a stock car does that. These guys helped make Bristol.”
Saturday’s schedule will now include a 100-lap late model race, the Scotts Turf Builder 300 for the Nationwide Series and the celebrity/legends event.
“It has been a while,” said Johnson, who won one race as a driver and 20 as a car owner at Bristol. “But I think I can still turn some laps around this place. Darrell better buckle up.”
Harry Gant, Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer and Phil Parsons are expected to compete. Invitations have also been sent to several others. “We fully expect more drivers to be added to this list,” Byrd said.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

NASCAR, drivers should make time and place for autographs

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Athletes and/or celebrities should be glad to sign autographs anywhere and anytime because without the fans they would be nothing and wouldn’t have all their money and things that come with it.
That’s such an easy stand to take. It’s also gutless.
But coming up with realistic guidelines for when someone who’s famous should be expected to grant an autograph request is nearly impossible. That’s because there are an infinite number of circumstances that come up if you’re talking about every situation in which every famous person comes in contact with every person wanting an autograph.
It’s fair to say that fans ought to treat athletes and celebrities as human beings. Fans always should politely ask for (and not demand) an autograph in a context that respects a celebrity’s space and privacy. Celebrities should understand that fans don’t know if they’ll ever get an opportunity to see a famous person again, and therefore should have a little extra tolerance if a fan comes off as a bit too eager.
I think that it’s OK for an athlete or celebrity to say no to an autograph request if he’s in an airport or a restaurant or somewhere with his friends and family if that’s what he chooses to do. He doesn’t need to be a jerk about it, but if you’re willing to risk losing a fan by saying “no,” in that situation I think that’s fine.
This subject comes up as a result of a little kerfuffle that cropped up in racing during the run-up to the 2009 NASCAR season.
On the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway, officials from the Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks talked about how they hope drivers will do more to help tracks and the sport weather a rough economy this year by being more accessible. NASCAR president Mike Helton and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. both responded by saying that the drivers are already as accessible as or more accessible than their counterparts in other endeavors.
In the big picture, it’s true that drivers should do as much as they can to help sell their sport. They have a big stake in NASCAR’s success and the time and effort they invest in meeting fans and helping sell tickets will only pay off for them down the road.
But the legitimate issue the drivers have, I think, is this far-reaching expectation that they must make themselves available at all times in all circumstances to pose for pictures with or sign an autograph for anybody who wants one.
Think about it. Let’s say you see a driver in Wal-Mart in the Charlotte area on a Tuesday night with his wife and kids. Is he on the clock? Is he not allowed to go to Wal-Mart and not have it turn into an appearance because somebody recognizes him and the next thing you know he’s drawn a crowd? The same thing is true at the track. If you’re a fan and you’re in the garage during a practice session, you’re in the race teams’ work place. That’s neither the time nor the place for an autograph session.
One problem is that some tracks will “upsell” tickets to fans that promise them “access” to the drivers. That might mean the garage area or something like the FanZone here at Daytona. If a fan pays $75 for that access, he’s going to expect something out of that. The track may not come right out and say “here’s where you can meet and talk to you favorite driver,” but that’s the implication.
The way to fix a lot of this, I think, is to provide a structure – to provide that time and that place where the driver and the fan know that autographs are the purpose. It’s something that would be relatively easy to do.
Every day there is qualifying for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, each driver knows that 30 minutes after the last car runs he has to present himself at some designated place inside the track for an autograph session. The session lasts two hours. Drivers know not to schedule sponsor appearances or fan club gatherings in that window. If you miss the autograph session, unless there’s a specific exemption granted you forfeit all practice for your team the rest of that weekend.
Tracks sell tickets to qualifying as they do now. Admission to each autograph session is $10. Half the money from that goes to the NASCAR Foundation. The other half goes to a local charity designated by each track.
As fans enter, they can request a wristband for any driver’s autograph line. Each driver has a maximum of 100 wristbands. If your favorite guy’s wristbands are gone, you can pay your $10 and get somebody else or you can leave without paying. If a driver has nobody in line and you want to get him without a wristband, that’s fine, too.
But understand that when the two hours are up the drivers are free to go and be with their families and friends. And from that point on, for the rest of the weekend, drivers are told not to sign autographs in the garage or on pit road – no matter what. NASCAR policy.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dateline: Daytona Beach (And so it begins)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If I hadn’t let it get dark before I sat down to write this blog Tuesday night, I could have honestly told you I was looking at the ocean beyond the sands of Daytona Beach out the window of where I’ll be staying the next two weeks.
Even though it’s way too chilly to frolic – even if I were one predisposed to frolic – it was nice to be able to see the water when I got here today. A lot of the days during Speedweeks begin before the sun is up and end well after it’s down, so I won’t be spending much time gazing out that window at the ocean.
But at least I know it’s there.
* * *
Jeremy Mayfield has announced plans to run a full Sprint Cup season as the driver and co-owner of Mayfield Motorsports.
His Toyotas will carry the No. 41, but the car will not have the owner points amassed by Reed Sorenson with that number at Chip Ganassi Racing last year.
Mayfield said the suspension of testing and the car of tomorrow helped him get into position to field a team along with co-owner Gary Smith. Smith is chairman and chief executive officer of Big Red Inc., and that company’s All Sport brand of energy drink will serve as the team’s sponsor.
“Team ownership is something I’ve always wanted to pursue,” said Mayfield, who has five career Cup Series victories. “Things have really fallen into place this year with the NASCAR rule changes and with All Sport coming on board as a partner.”
Tony Furr is the crew chief and Triad Racing Technologies will supply the engines and chassis to support his racing efforts.
“We’re here for the long haul,” said Mayfield. “This isn’t something I’m going into with short term aspirations. Together with All Sport, we’re going to compete this year with the goal to build a solid team for many years to come.”
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Darlington Raceway wants fans to choose the most memorable moment in the track’s 60-year history. Voting has begun at
The nominated moments are the inaugural Southern 500 in 1950, Ned Jarrett’s record 14-lap victory margin in the 1965 Southern 500, Richard Petty moving past his father, Lee, to first on the sport’s all-time victory list with Richard’s 55th career win in 1967, first Darlington wins in 1968 for South Carolina natives David Pearson and Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip’s dramatic win over Petty, Pearson and Bobby Allison for Waltrip’s first superspeedway win in 1977, Pearson’s 105th and final career win in 1980, Dale Earnhardt’s first Darlington win in 1982, Bill Elliott’s 1985 Southern 500 victory that earned Elliott the Winston Million bonus, Jeff Gordon’s first Darlington win in 1995, Jeff Burton’s win in the 50th Southern 500 in 1999, the dramatic fender-banging finish to Ricky Craven’s 2003 win over Kurt Busch and back-to-back wins in 2005 and 2006 by Greg Biffle.
Frankly, I am not sure about some of those nominees. Darlington has a lot of great history. But the choice for me comes down to Elliott’s 1985 win and the Craven-Kurt Busch battle in 2003. The 2003 race was epic, no doubt, but Elliott’s win in 1985 to earn $1 million from R.J. Reynolds was a big, big moment for the sport.
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Briefly: Sherry Clifton, who was the race promoter of Hickory Motor Speedway for more than a decade, is the new director for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Director. Clifton has racing in her blood. Her father, Hal, is the brother of short-track legend Tommy Houston. …Golden Corral restaurants will sponsor Travis Kvapil’s car in the Daytona 500. …The third annual Speed Performance Awards show will air for the first time Thursday at 10:30 p.m. The show will also repeat several times after that – 7 p.m. on Feb. 11; 2 a.m. on Feb. 12; 3 p.m. on Feb. 13 and 2 p.m. on Feb. 17.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Points gymnastics will make you flip out

I’ve been a supporter of NASCAR’s top 35 rule since its inception. I think it’s a fair way to make it more likely the teams that commit to running a full schedule are protected from missing races because of the vagaries of qualifying.
That’s not a very popular position among some fans, who’re under the incorrect impression that putting only the fastest 43 cars each week is the best way to run the NASCAR railroad. It has never been done that way in this sport, not for any significant period of time, and it never should be in my mind.
Btu the top-35 rule is hard to defend when NASCAR allows the kind of gymnastics that seems to be going on with owner points this offseason.
It’s reasonable for there to be an orderly way for teams to transfer points when it changes drivers. It’s fine with me if Yates Racing wants to take the points earned by David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil last year and give them to Bobby Labonte and Paul Menard – as long as Yates Racing has the same number of top 35 spots for this year as it earned last year.
If Richard Childress Racing wants to start a fourth team, that’s fine. But RCR had three teams in the top 35 last year and that’s how many should start this year in it. If Childress wants to put Casey Mears with the No. 07 team and have Clint Bowyer go to the new team, that’s fine. But Bowyer needs to go hard in the first five races to get into this year’s top 35 and not get an exemption through some kind of elaborate deal.
It doesn’t look as if we’re going to have a Daytona 500 entry list until Friday, and according to Bob Pockrass of a lot of stuff will be going on up until the last minute. Nobody knows more about this points tomfoolery than Pockrass.
Pockrass says that somehow Phoenix Racing has secured a top-35 spot for Brad Keselowski in the No. 09 Chevrolet. Apparently that’s comes from one of the total of six slots that Dale Earnhardt Inc. (four) and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (two) had at the end of last year and now control as the merged Earnhardt-Ganassi team.
Teams aren’t supposed to be allowed to have a financial interest in more than four teams. You can field a fifth car for someone who plans to run as a rookie the following year, but the plan supposedly was for Keselowski to run seven races – the maximum allowed for such a prospect – in a fifth Hendrick Motorsports car. Then came word Keselowski was going to run 10 more for Phoenix. So he’s a rookie in training for two teams? And he’s going to run Daytona with an “affiliation” with Earnhardt-Ganassi, supposedly, even though we all know he’s in the Hendrick pipeline?
Pockrass also says that teams are sniffing around trying to “buy” the points earned by the now-defunct No. 22 team at Bill Davis Racing. The assets of that team were bought by people who’re keeping the engine-building part of the company going, but they’re not racing the 22. That should be that. If points aren’t for sale, then don’t let them be sold.
If Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing wants to run John Andretti in a fourth car with the points from the 15 car last year, that’s OK. Earnhardt-Ganassi should have four spots because they had six and four is the maximum for one team.
That means the points from the 22, the 01 and 41 from last year should be out of the picture, period. That would put Marcos Ambrose in the 47 (with Michael McDowell’s points), AJ Allmendinger in the No. 44 (with the No. 10’s points) and Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 77 in the top 35 to start the season. And that should absolutely be that.
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Briefly: Rockingham Speedway has added another event to its schedule, the Cherry Bomb 200 on July 4. The doubleheader will have the Frank Kimmel Street Stock cars, which raced in the Polar Bear 150 on Jan. 1, running 100 laps beginning at 10 a.m. That will be followed by 100 laps for the American Speed Association’s late model series. …Sports Business Journal reports that Fox Sports’ projections for NASCAR advertising sales are about 25 percent off of last year’s pace. Three of the top five advertisers on NASCAR telecasts last year were Ford, Toyota and General Motors at a total of about $44 million. All expect to spend less this year. …Robert Auton, the father of Truck Series director Wayne Auton and Sprint Cup official Buster Auton, died Sunday at age 75. Known as “Hoot” by most in the NASCAR community, the elder Auton was a long-time NASCAR official himself. The funeral will be held on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. at Springs Road Baptist Church in Hickory.

It's your turn to direct NASCAR on TV

I watched the Super Bowl telecast Sunday with a different perspective than a lot of folks because I am sort of related to somebody who was in the NBC production truck.
Drew Esocoff, the unbelievably talented director of "Sunday Night Football," was directing the show Sunday and I thought he did another remarkable job. Drew is married to my wife's cousin Katrina, so maybe I am a hair prejudiced. But this is the guy who also did the swimming at this summer's Olympics in Beijing. This guy does not play around.
The cool thing about Sunday's broadcast, I thought, was that NBC had all of the critical replays from all of the angles necessary for the officials -- and America -- to see that most of those crucial calls wound up being made properly.
That sparked a discussion on Sirius NASCAR Radio this morning about what kind of innovations you see in other sports on television that you would like to see done for NASCAR broadcasts. Two suggestions really sounded good to me.
The first stems from the 360-degree technology that's now being used on football telecasts. During a play, the action can be stopped and the viewer can see what's happening from every angle around the player or point on the field that's involved. A caller pointed out just how cool that would be to show during or in the immediate aftermath of a crash during a stock-car race. I agree with that.
The second suggestion involved pit stops. Television will do a three-shot of three different cars making pit stops at various points on pit road. But since one car gets to pit road before the others, it's hard to compare how the pit stops stack up head to head. The caller on the radio show today said he would like to see pit stops replayed in sync -- from the moment each car stops in its pit stall -- and replayed side-by-side so he can see which crew gets around the car first or does the best job getting to the car when the pit stop begins. I also think that's a good idea.
What different things would you like to see? Now don't say no commercials, because that won't happen in the real world. But is there something you've seen you'd like to see more of, or something you've seen that you'd like to see less of?