Monday, March 30, 2009

Hey, folks, that's racin'

I guess there's supposed to be something controversial about how the Goody's 500 finished Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, but the question I have is what else could have happened?

First, Denny Hamlin made a sensational move on a restart to take the lead away from Jimmie Johnson.

Now if you wanted to make a big deal out of it, you might argue that without help from teammate Kyle Busch, Hamlin never would have been able to make that move work. Hamlin said up front that he asked his spotter to get with Busch's spotter and ask for room to move to Johnson's inside. But hey, that's teamwork and that's not fair!

Hang on, though. The next time there was a restart, Busch was still the first car a lap down and Johnson was second. Busch hung back and left room in case Johnson wanted to try the same move. Isn't that all you can ask for?

So then Johnson chases Hamlin down and with 15 laps to go Johnson drives hard into Turn 3 to try to get to Hamlin's inside in an effort to take back the lead. What happened next depends on which car you were driving or which one you were pulling for. Either Hamlin tried to crowd Johnson to the low side and Johnson bounced off the curb into Hamlin's car, or Johnson laid a bump on Hamlin and took the lead away.

I have to tell you, I think both guys did precisely what they had to do. How can you blame Johnson from trying to win? How can you blame Hamlin from trying to keep it from happening? They didn't wreck each other or anybody else, and more to the point they didn't get out of their cars after the race and act like they were fighting over marbles at recess.

Martinsville is short-track racing. The fans who came got what they paid for. The drivers tried everything they could to win the race. Everything that happened was what's supposed to happen.

On to Texas.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The sun is out at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The rain is gone and there will be Sprint Cup racing today at Martinsville Speedway.

Yesterday was a mess and the Truck Series will have to wait until Monday to compete. The trucks that made the show are sitting in a tight little bunch in the infield, covered by tarps. Sprint Cup haulers had to back up a little to provide the room for those trucks, so quarters are cramped in the Cup garage.

Traffic this morning was, well, a mess.

What we had was a mini-Texas. Remember the first race at Texas Motor Speedway when a week of rain rendered parking lots useless and led that what still ranks at the mother of all NASCAR traffic jams? On a smaller scale, that's what happened this morning here.

Almost all of the available parking at Martinsville is unpaved, and some of it is at the bottom of some pretty big hills. Those areas are mud bogs and only vehicles with four-wheel drive were allowed in those areas.

That backed everything WAY up. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to go the final 2 miles to the track and then get from U.S. 220 to the media parking lot at the bottom of the hill behind Turn 4. My demon-possessed car shut off completely on me once and just wouldn't go. I was sitting there trying to figure out what I was going to do to get it out of the way but it started back up and I was able to get where I needed to be. It's 50-50 whether she'll be functional for the ride home tonight, but what a race day without a little drama?

I've said this before and I am sure I will say it again, but race fans just never cease to amaze me. I am getting paid to be here today. If I had left my house this morning intending to get to the track and buy one of the tickets that were left for this race, I know I would have turned around and headed back home long before I finally got parked.

Even the parking lots that are open are muddy and there's nothing the track could have done about that. It didn't quit raining until sometime overnight and by daybreak people were trying to get here. That leaves no time to put down gravel or straw or anything to try to make the going less sloppy. But as I write this it's noon and people are still making their way toward the track.

Friday, March 27, 2009

If the NFL pushes, NASCAR has to give

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- OK, first of all, is there anybody who seriously doubts that the NFL will add two games to its regular-season schedule if it can find any way to pull that off?

More games means more money -- from ticket sales, from television and from everywhere. There aren't many businesses, let alone sports-related businesses, that leave money hanging on the trees.

So let's assume that by 2012 or so the NFL pushes its season back a couple of weeks and the Super Bowl falls in mid-February -- the Sunday before the third Monday. That's also the traditional date for the Daytona 500, of course. So what would happen?

NASCAR would blink. Period. End of discussion.

There's no way NASCAR can have the Daytona 500 on Super Sunday. Forget that. It will not happen. The reasons stack up like a pile of wood. Yes, you could start the race at noon (which is when it should start anyway) and have it done well before the football game starts. But where does it go in the next day's paper? How deep into SportsCenter would the first NASCAR highlight be? Would anybody want to talk to the Daytona 500 winner the next day? Then there's all the corporate reasons. Sponsors can't blow out two events on the same day. It just wouldn't work.

There is wiggle room in the racing schedule. NASCAR could push its schedule back a week now, eliminating the open date that falls after Atlanta, and be done with it. It also could condense Speedweeks from the schedule it has now to something more reasonable, which wouldn't hurt, either.

But the NFL is going to do what it wants to do and NASCAR is just going to have to deal with that. That's just the way the world is.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Young drivers making their moves

Jordan Anderson and Jake Crum, a couple of 17-year-old drivers, are taking big steps in their racing careers.

Anderson, who is from Forest Acres, S.C., is scheduled to make his first 2009 start at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia this weekend, has an endorsement deal with The Wheeler Company. That company is one founded by former Speedway Motorsports Inc. president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler.

“I know what it takes to succeed in the world of NASCAR, and believe Jordan has what it takes to make it to the Cup Series by his 21st birthday, which is our goal,” Wheeler said. “He is the complete package: driving ability, maturity, determination, personality and character...and he does it all from getting his own sponsorships to towing his own car.”

Wheeler has worked unofficially with Anderson for more than four years. Anderson won the pro car division at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway Summer Shootout in 2007 and 2008.

“I am humbled that Mr. Wheeler and his team have such faith and interest in my development and success,” Anderson said.

Crum, meanwhile, has signed a letter of intent with Venturini Motorsports as a developmental driver in the Automobile Racing Club of America series. Crum is the defending UARA Stars series champion.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to join Billy Venturini and everyone else at Venturini Motorsports,” Crum said. “The Venturini’s have been around the sport and the series for a long time. I know their experience makes them a strong team and I am looking forward to being able to race for them.”

Nationwide team fined: The No. 72 Nationwide Series team was penalized by NASCAR for violations found in the fuel sample taken from its car after qualifying at Bristol.

Crew chief Andy Punch was fined $10,000, suspended from April 4 through April 29 (four races) and was is on probation until Dec. 31. Driver Benny Gordon lost 50 driver points and team owner Frank Varishchetti was docked 50 owner points.

The team was found in violation of section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-I (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules), 20A-15 (NASCAR reserves the right to have all cars use the same brand of fuel in a given event) and 20A-15.2C (the gasoline must not be blended with alcohols, ethers, or other oxygenates and it must not be blended with aniline or its derivatives, nitro compounds or other nitrogen-containing compounds) of the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series rule book.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

2 more Earnhardts join NASCAR mix

Kerry Earnhardt, the oldest son of seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, is coming back to NASCAR’s Nationwide Series competition and he’s bringing his son, Jeffrey, with him.

They were announced Tuesday as part of Rick Ware Racing.

Kerry Earnhardt will try to make the field for the Nationwide race at Texas on April 4, the first of several races he’ll run this year. Jeffrey Earnhardt has seven races planned, beginning at Dover on May 30, keeping him eligible to run for rookie of the year in 2010.

Rick Ware Racing fields the No. 31 and No. 41 Chevrolets. The No. 31 is attempting a full schedule while the No. 41 will run on a part-time basis.

Kerry and Jeffrey will both try to make the Nationwide race at Atlanta later this year. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is also scheduled to enter that race with his team.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is scheduled to enter the races at Dover, Chicago, Watkins Glen, Montreal, Michigan, Atlanta and Charlotte.

All-star format to be announced: The format for this year’s Sprint All-Star Race is expected to be announced today at an early afternoon news conference at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Last year’s race was run in four segments of 25 laps each. The only thing we know so far is that this year’s race should be the same total length of 100 laps or 150 miles.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kyle Busch wins, takes a shot at Dale Jr.

You don't have to like Kyle Busch. In fact, you can hate his guts and pull against him every time he starts a motor if that's what floats your boat.

But let me tell you this. After Sunday's race at Bristol, which Busch dominated for his 14th career Cup victory, he provided a pretty solid definition for what it takes to be a racer.

The question was whether he uses the reaction he gets from fans -- boos and jeers, primarily -- to fuel the fire that burns within him.

"Not really." he said. "I think it's cool it works that way, but I don't use it.

"What I use is the car in front of me. If there's a car in front of me, I'm going to chase him. ... I want to pass that guy. If I'm the leader, there's another car in front of me, he's going a lap down. The more guys you get a lap down, the more you don't have to deal with at the end of the day. There's always some motivation to go forward. There's always somebody ahead of you that you can pass that's going to mean something. Even if you are the leader."

So Kyle Busch wants to beat people. He wants to do better than you do, no matter who you are. That is the absolute definition of competition. That's why you're in professional sports. You're not there just to have a good time. You can do that on a lower level. But if you're going to be in the big leagues, and that's what Sprint Cup racing is, that's not the measure.

Fans who don't like Busch probably want somebody to shut him up. There's a way do to that, of course, and that's to start beating him as often as Busch has been handing everybody their hats this season and last. Busch has won 10 times and finished in the top five 20 times in 41 races with Joe Gibbs Racing. He's led 2,190 laps in those races, too. That's getting the job done.

Busch took a little shot at Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Sunday's race, too.

"For me, I don't think I would enjoy having the most fans out there," Busch said. "I actually like the way I am, the role I portray. And I think that there's probably too much pressure on one guy's shoulders who doesn't seem to win very often. But for us, it's a blast to go out there and do what we do."

Now if you're a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan that should make your blood boil.

More to the point, if you're Dale Earnhardt Jr. (left) or a member of his team it should make your blood boil.

That quote ought to be put up on every billboard in the No. 88 team's shop and they should find a clip of it and play it on a continuous loop until that team goes to work and figures out how to go out and start beating the No. 18 when it counts -- on Sunday.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It's a Millers' Tale from Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- They tell you that when you're in the news business you're never supposed to become part of a story. They do not, however, tell you what to do when the story becomes part of you.

Wessa Miller and her parents, Booker and Juanita, are at Bristol this weekend. They spent the day Saturday in the garage meeting lots of people. There was a short press conference about the online auction at from which proceeds will go to, a charity fund that I set up for Millers after I wrote about them more than a year ago. Wessa got to go on stage during the prerace ceremonies and she seemed to love it.

I first talked to the Miller family on the phone in late January or early February of 2008. When she was 6, Wessa went to the 1998 Daytona 500 as part of the Make-A-Wish program and met her favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt. She gave him a penny and Earnhardt glued it onto the dash of the No. 3 Chevrolet. The next day, Earnhardt finally won NASCAR's biggest race.

Earnhardt brought Wessa and her parents to the spring race at Bristol later that year, then brought them back the next two years as well. He also gave them a new Chevrolet van, and they still drive that thing. Booker runs a garage behind his house in Phyllis, Ky., and his knowledge and hard work have kept that van running for the past 11 years.

Saturday was a big day for Rusty Wallace said he was going to give $5,000 of what he earned in Saturday's pro-celebrity race to the fund. Richard Childress gave $1,000. NASCAR Angels arranged for new tires and a tune-up for the van, which has "Lucky Penny" stickers all over it.

People have been very generous on the online auction, too. Some of the items close out on Monday, the rest will be on sale through Friday.

Obviously, I have a rooting interest here. I want to raise as much money as possible so the Millers can get anything they need to help them with Wessa. It'd be nice to get enough for a new van with all the wheelchair access they need. They've already used some of the money to renovate their bathroom to make their lives a little easier.

Somebody asked me Saturday what it was about the Millers that made me want to help them. I gave an answer and then wished I had said it a different way. What I said was that what the Millers consider a good day would be a horrible day for you and me. That's not exactly what I meant. What I meant was that if we had to do what all the Millers do on what they consider a good day, we'd wonder if we could ever make it through another day like that.

Friday night, when my wife and I had dinner with the Millers, she was looking for a 1988 penny to give to Dale Earnhardt Jr. when she gets a chance to see him. Hey, it worked once for the family. Wessa will be at Sunday's Food City 500, too, and she will absolutely be pulling for the No. 88 car.

I can't pull for anybody -- that's not what reporters do. But I do pull for good stories, and no matter what happens today this weekend has been a good story. A lot of very nice people have done a lot of very nice things for the Miller family. And they deserve every bit of it.

If you want to donate to Pennies for Wessa, go to or send a check to Pennies For Wessa, Attention: Mike Damron, Community Trust Bank, P.O. Box 39, Mouthcard, KY 41548.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Celebrity-Pro race teams named

The team lineups have been set for Saturday night’s celebrity-pro race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The celebrities will run 15-lap (or 10-minute) heats and the finishing order of that will determine the starting lineup for the 35-lap race for the pros.

Ray Evernham and Rusty Wallace were the first to announce their pairing, forming what a team of ESPN colleagues.

Another ESPN celebrity, Brad Daugherty will be teamed with Junior Johnson, who won 21 Bristol races as a car owner. And ESPN’s Andy Petree is paired with Sterling Marlin
Television and radio personality Riki Rachtman is paired with Jimmy Spencer. Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer is paired with Cale Yarborough. Bill Jordan of Realtree Outdoors will team with his hunting buddy, Terry Labonte.

Greg Anderson, the three-time National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock champion, will race with David Green. Funny Car driver Ron Capps will be with Jack Ingram and Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert is teamed with Larry Pearson, who this week replaced his father, David Pearson, in the pro lineup. David Pearson is out with a back injury.

David Akers, the kicker for the Philadelphia Eagles, is teamed with Harry Gant and Terry Bowden, football coach the University of North Alabama, is racing with L.D. Ottinger. Former NFL player Mike Compton will team with Phil Parsons.

Akers, Beamer, Bowden, Compton, Jordan and Rachtman will run the first heat to determine the order of the inside starting row of the 35-lap pro event. Anderson, Capps, Daugherty, Evernham, Herbert and Petree will run the second 15-lap heat to set the outside starting row of the main event.

The winning team is guaranteed $25,000 for their charities and a total of $10,000 will go to the charity or charities of the second-place duo. Every other team will get $5,000, $2,500 per driver, for their charities.

ESPN2 will carry the race beginning at 6 p.m. with Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Ned Jarrett in the booth.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wins will determine Formula One champion

Those wacky lads with the FIA World Motor Sport Council are at it again, deciding Tuesday that the 2009 Formula One championship will be awarded simply to the driver who wins the most races.

F1 teams had proposed revisions in the points structure that had been used, wanting to see teams get 12 points for a win, nine for second and seven for third. The current system goes 10-8-6 for those finishes.

The current system will be kept in place to break ties. So if two drivers finish with the same number of race wins, points will be used to name a champion.

Would that work for NASCAR? I don't think so. I've always believed victories should mean more than they do in stock-car racing's points system, but I don't think they should be a trump card over every other measure of performance.

The F1 championship would have gone to a different driver 13 times since 1950 under the new system.

Wonder if F1 fans will start arguing that, for example, Felipe Massa is the "real" 2008 champion since he had more wins than Lewis Hamilton, who actually won the championship under the rules that were in place? NASCAR fans who don't like the Chase for the Sprint Cup format just love to beat their heads against that pointless wall.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The day's news: Some good, some not so much

These days it's a good thing when you can report anything about people running races at any level, so Monday's best bit of NASCAR news was details of plans for the No. 5 Nationwide Series car owned by JR Motorsports.

Ryan Newman, Scott Wimmer and Tony Stewart will join Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin in running 21 total races this year. Wimmer will run six races and Newman will do four. Stewart will run at Charlotte in October.

The only races left open on the No. 5 team's schedule are road course races at Watkins Glen on Aug. 8 and at Montreal on Aug. 30. Drivers for those races are to be announced.

Newman will run at Dover in May, Chicagoland in July, Michigan in August and Kansas in October. Wimmer's races are at Darlington in May, Milwaukee in June, O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis in July, Bristol in August and Richmond in September.

Earnhardt has five races left in the car, beginning at Texas. Martin will drive it in May at Richmond.

Budweiser out of NHRA: Budweiser announced Monday that this will be its last as the official beer sponsor of the National Hot Rod Association as primary sponsor of Kenny Bernstein's Top Fuel team, which has a car driven by Brandon Bernstein. Budweiser and Bernstein had been together 30 years.

Furniture Row adjusts schedule: Furniture Row Racing has added the Texas race to its schedule for Regan Smith, so it will now run 13 Cup races this year. The team has also decided not to run the No. 78 Chevrolet in the road course races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen as well as the May race at Dover. The team added races at Darlington, Pocono (June) and Indianapolis.

"We all sat down and re-evaluated our schedule to see what suits our racing program the best," said Joe Garone, Furniture Row Racing's general manager. "Since we're a sponsor-owned team we have the flexibility to move in and move out of race markets. We will most likely make additional changes as the season progresses."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shalom and Amen for the Rev. Marchman

There's news from Daytona Beach late Sunday night that the Rev. Hal Marchman has passed away.

If you're a NASCAR fan or even if you just watched the Daytona 500, you'ver heard the Rev. Marchman give the invocation before the sport's biggest race. Bill France Sr. asked him to deliver a prayer before the inaugural event in 1959 and the Rev. Marchman kept the job for nearly five decades.

The Rev. Marchman usually ended his invocation with the term "Shalom and amen."

He had been suffering from dementia and memory loss for several years, but the Daytona Beach News-Journal's website, said a member of the Rev. Marchman's family said his death Sunday at Indigo Palms Memorical Care facility was due to a sudden bout with illness.

"Rev. Hal Marchman was a true friend to Daytona International Speedway and will be sorely missed," said Robin Braig, president of Daytona International Speedway told the News-Journal's web site. "He touched many lives at the Speedway, from the competitors to the race fans.

"We're thankful and grateful for his many years of service to the Speedway, but also to the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Marchman family."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An idea whose time has come

It's good to see that the folks at Mansfield Motorsports Park and the Automobile Racing Club of America have decided to name the June 20 race at that track the Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200.

The decision makes sense for many reasons. First, the track in Mansfield, Ohio, is not far from Richmond's hometown of Ashland, Ohio. Second, this year marks 20 years since Richmond's death in 1989.

"I believe it is time to share his memory with new fans and give his still-existent fan base an opportunity to remember many of his great and precious moments," said Sandy Welsh, Richmond's sister. "This celebration will also provide us the opportunity to draw attention to AIDS, the disease that cut Tim's life short, and assist those that are suffering from this cruel disease. We want to do what we can to motivate the discovery of a cure for AIDS and give Tim's life even more meaning."

Richmond started his brief but brilliant racing career in 1976 when he turned some laps in a Sprint Car at Lakeville Speedway in Lakeville, Ohio. By 1980 he was winning rookie of the year honors in the Indianapolis 500. After moving to NASCAR, he won 13 races and had 42 top-five finishes and 78 top 10s in just 185 career Sprint Cup starts.

Richmond also had an ARCA vicotry on his resume. He won the ARCA 200 at Daytona International Speedway in February of 1981 in his first career start in that series.

The June 20 race will be ARCA's first race at the half-mile Mansfield track.

"Tim Richmond won the 1981 ARCA 200 at Daytona, and he won in supermodifieds at our Toledo Speedway track," said ARCA President Ron Drager. "We're proud to have played a role in the development of Tim's amazing racing career, and we look forward to helping make the inaugural Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200 at Mansfield a success."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tire test next week at Lowe's

Tire testing, the only kind of testing that's allowed this season, comes to Lowe's Motor Speedway next week.

Kasey Kahne, who won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 last May, will be joined at the test by Jimmie Johnson, Marcos Ambrose and Paul Menard. They're scheduled to be on track Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. until noon and from1 to 5 p.m. each day.

The track will open its frontstretch grandstand free to race fans each day. Spectators should enter through Gate 5A next to the main ticket offic.

Fans who already have tickets to this year's all-star race and Coca-Cola 600 will have access to an infield grandstand on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can participate in a fan forum featuring all four drivers from 12 - 1 p.m. Ticket holders will need to check in at the speedway's ticket office to receive verification of their ticket purchase before entering the infield at Gate 26.

'Tire chaser' issues statement: I asked the folks at Michael Waltrip Racing if Jimmy Watts, who was suspended for four races for chasing a tire into the infield at Atlanta, wanted to talk about how he feels about the aftermath of that incident.

The team declined, saying it and Watts want to move on. But in response to my request and requests from other reporters, Watts issued a brief statement Thursday through the team.

"To go after the tire was a quick reaction and obviously the wrong decision," Watts said. "I want to apologize to my team, my competitors and to NASCAR.

"Everything happens so fast on pit road that I just didn't realize how far I had gone out until I grabbed the tire. I put myself in jeopardy and I know how hard NASCAR works to make the pit crew members safe on pit road. I stand by their decision and will serve my four-race suspension."

More for the "Reality Tour:" The race shop tour I am offering for the Monday after the all-star race as part of the NASCAR Foundation/Motor Racing Outreach online auction for Pennies for Wessa keeps getting better.

Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway, has offered to allow the winning bidder and myself to start the tour with lunch at the track's Speedway Club. Better yet, he says we can take one of the track's pace cars on the tour. That means we won't have to cross our fingers that my personal bucket of bolts can complete the trip.

There's a direct link to the item available now. It's a long link, so hopefully you can just click and go. Here it is:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Warning: Horribly bad pun ahead

Here's a quick Wednesday evening update or two or three of my "pet" projects. (You'll have to read to the end to see what a bad pun that truly is.)

Update No. 1 is on the shop tour I am going to do the Monday after the Sprint Cup All-Star Race to a winning bidder on the Pennies for Wessa auction being held at You can add two tickets to the all-star race, courtesy of the fine folks at Lowe's Motor Speedway, to the package.

So now the bonanza that's up for grabs is two tickets to the all-star event on May 16 followed on May 18 by visits to several race shops with me acting as your friendly tour guide and driver.

Update No. 2 is from Atlanta race winner Kurt Busch, who has decided to officially let the fans help him pick the name for his reverse victory lap that followed the Kobalt Tools 500.

“It has been unbelievable – I’ve been just blown away by it all,” Busch said of the response to the lap. “It’s amazing to see the attention it (the celebration lap) has gotten. We’ve done hundreds of media interviews since Sunday and every time it’s inevitable that they’ll get around to wanting to discuss our unusual victory lap."

Fans can post a comment on this blog and offer their suggestions. Busch and his minions will pick a winner and give a lucky fan who suggests it a gift basket after announcing the winner at Bristol on March 20.

Update No. 3 is where the pun begins.

Ryan Newman is doing a follow-up edition to his book "Pit Road Pets." The new book will be subtitled: "NASCAR Stars and Their Pets, the Second Lap." But it also will include photos of fans with their pets, too.

"My wife, Krissie, came up with the idea to include the fans in our second book because they are the heart of NASCAR," Newman said. "The fans are out there volunteering for their local animal shelters, adopting pets from rescue groups and spaying and neutering their pets. They are making a difference at the grassroots level across our nation. We think adding the fans to the next Pit Road Pets book will make our second edition extra special."

A photographer will be taking pictures of NASCAR fans with their pets at the Pit Road Pets tent in the Earnhardt Campground at Bristol 9 am until 2 p.m. on March 21 and March 22.

"We're going to try to squeeze as many photos of NASCAR fans and their pets as possible in the book," Ryan Newman Foundation Executive Director Rosalie De Fini said. "Everyone will get their time to shine because all the photos we take of fans and pets will be posted on the Ryan Newman Foundation website,"

See, it's an actual pet project ...

A bid to help Pennies for Wessa

At the risk of opening myself up to ridicule from some regular readers of this blog, today's offering is about what I'm planning to do on behalf of the Pennies For Wessa auction now being conducted by The NASCAR Foundation and Motor Racing Outreach.

The auction runs through March 27 at and includes a lot of really cool items - autographed photos and posters and even a Washington Redskins helmet autographed by Joe Gibbs as well as VIP packages to race events later this year. The money will go to help Wessa Miller, the young lady who in 1998 gave Dale Earnhardt a lucky penny before Earnhardt won the Daytona 500.

Wessa and her parents, Booker and Juanita, are coming to Bristol on March 21-22 to see the races and get to meet some of the drivers in the garage. They came to Bristol in 1998 as Earnhardt's guest after Earnhardt had won at Daytona with the penny glued to the dash of his No. 3 Chevrolet.

"NASCAR Angels" is doing a piece on the Millers and ESPN plans to do a story on them for the Nationwide Series prerace show that day.

I was trying to decide if I could do anything that somebody might be interested in bidding on. Here's what I came up with.

For somebody who's going to be in or around Charlotte during the May races here, I will pick the winning bidder up at Lowe's Motor Speedway on the Monday after the all-star race in my own car (I call it Christine because I am not sure it's not demon possessed). We'll go over to the Hendrick Motorsports museum, then we'll go to Kannapolis and do the Dale Earnhardt min-tour there. We'll go from there up to the Richard Childress Racing museum in Welcome and then we'll come back through Mooresville. I'll even spring for lunch and dinner.

I know it sounds like the "Kramer Reality Tour" from the Seinfeld show, but it's all I've got. Maybe somebody out there would be willing to help the cause and kill an afternoon riding around in my heap of a car.

Check out for the auction site. My "reality tour" isn't up there yet, but it will be in the next day or so. But go now and you can see some really cool items that have actual value!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Empty seats at Georgia track an issue, and Smith knows it

Bruton Smith blew into the media center Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway and held court with reporters for quite a while. The military would call this a diversionary tactic.

I drifted in and out of the gaggle, making sure I wasn't missing Smith plowing any new ground. He talked about how NASCAR should take the final race of the Sprint Cup season away from Homestead - or, as he likes to call it, Homeinstead - and move it back to Atlanta or out to Las Vegas. He talked about how the Cup banquet should be in Las Vegas and not New York. He talked about a lot of stuff.

I didn't write about any of it (until now, I guess) because it wasn't anything I hadn't heard before and because I had a good idea what he was up to.

For weeks leading up to Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, there had been whispers all around the sport about how few tickets had been sold for the race at the 1.54-mile track located south of downtown Atlanta. The weather was perfect and there was a huge walk-up crowd (when compared with other years) and they still might have sold half the seats.

OK, let's be totally fair here. If Atlanta Motor Speedway had 75,000 or so, which is where I would put the crowd I saw (NASCAR's estimate of 94,000 on the official race report was WAY high), that's still more than fans than there would be at a sold-out Homstead-Miami Speedway. It's about what California had, maybe a little less, and about what places like Kansas and Chicagoland will hold later this year.

I say that people who see the stands half-empty at Atlanta and think the crowd is "terrible" need to keep in perspective that 75,000 for any professional sports event in the Atlanta market is not shabby. But it's not good, either.

Smith keeps insisting that the track will sell out its second date this year, which moves to Sunday night of Labor Day weekend. People at the track say they're encouraged by the response to that new date, moved back from around Halloween weekend in previous years.

We'll see.

Some of the drivers were asked about the empty seats after Sunday's race and they said they're baffled. Racing at Atlanta is usually not terrible and it's a great facility. Traffic there used to be awful and maybe that reputation lingers despite the fact that there have been improvements made in that regard. The track has tried everything reasonable in terms of ticket and concession prices in this tough economy.

This ain't Bruton Smith's first rodeo. By chumming the waters with talk about how NASCAR ought to do this and that with other races at other places he got some of the heat off of his track at Atlanta, at least for a little while, over the weekend. But he's smart enough to know that nobody's going to have their attention fully diverted, at least not for long, from how many seats went unsold Sunday.

Smith would like to have a second race in Las Vegas and he's promised up and down that he'll bring Cup racing to the track he bought in Kentucky last year. He might be singing the song that one of those dates "should" come from one of International Speedway Corp.'s tracks, but he knows as well as I do that's not going to happen.

If Kentucky gets a date next year, Smith will put it there from within the Speedway Motorsports portfolio. And after seeing the crowd Sunday at Atlanta, that track has a great big target locked on it, no matter how many countermeasures Smith tries to deploy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Busch takes celebration in a new direction

HAMPTON, Ga. -- The victory lap that Kurt Busch took after Sunday's victory in the Kobalt Tools 500 was something different.

He didn't do what the late Alan Kulwicki once called a "Polish Victory Lap," driving forward the wrong way around the track going from Turn 4 back toward Turn 1. It was, in fact, a mirror-image of that lap. Kurt drove in reverse around the track beginning with Turn 1.

So should we call it the Hsilop Victory Lap (pronounced Shylop), since that's Polish spelled backward?

Busch said he and some of his buddies came up with the idea for the reverse run one night over a few beers. The buddies wanted Busch to call it "The Donkey."

God knows why. Surely we can do better than that.

Here are some potential names for the lap. Tell me which ones you like, or give me your own ideas:

Victory Pal -- Pal is Lap spelled backward. Get it?

Miller Time Rewind -- Sponsorship driven, but I don't know that Miller necessarily wants to be associated with driving backward.

The Vice Versa -- Because it was the opposite of what you'd expect the winner to do.

Doubleback -- This is among my favorites. Busch's car number is 2, so that's where the "double" comes in.

Backout -- Instead of a burnout, you do the backout.

Throwback -- Busch said he drove Sunday at Atlanta like he it was old-school Darlington or old-school Rockingham. So this would definitely apply.

Backlash (or Backstroke, or Stickback, or Throwback, or Runback, or Rollback) -- Just about any "back" pun would work.

Tip It Back Lap -- Another sponsor-related opportunity. After the 2 car wins, tip back an ice-cold Miller and have a ball. You could even see the ad campaign surrounding this one, which came from a caller on "The Morning Drive" on the Sirius NASCAR Radio show Monday morning.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Wow, who could have seen that coming?

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Kyle Busch won the pole Saturday morning for this afternoon's American Commercial Lines 200 race in the NASCAR Camping World Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In other news, the sun came up in the east this morning.

Seriously, who else would be on the pole for the Truck race? Actually, it's only his fourth pole in 57 Truck Series starts. It just seems like he wins them all, I guess.

Busch ran 176.403 mph in the No. 51 Toyota to get the top spot. Rick Crawford was second at 175.950 mph with Kevin Harvick, Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday Jr. rounding out the top five.

The Truck Series qualifying began about 25 or 30 minutes late because of unexpected morning
fog and mist that finally burned off and allowed the track to be dried.

As soon as the Truck qualifying ended Sprint Cup teams took to the track for the first of two important practices for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500. They got in about 25 minutes in a first session that was scheduled for 45. After a short break the Cup cars will return for a final practice that runs until 1:30.

Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and David Stremme had the fastest laps in the first practice.

You know that great forecast? Never mind

HAMPTON, Ga. -- The Weather Channel says there's a zero percent chance of precipitation today in the Atlanta area.
With all due respect to the weather experts, they don't know Atlanta Motor Speedway's luck.
Camping World Truck Series qualifying was set to begin at 9:35 a.m. Eastern, but it's now 9:50 and the only things that have been on the track are safety trucks and jet dryers. That's because it has been misting rain.
The forecast STILL calls for partly cloudy skies, temperature in the 70s and no rain. This is supposedly something that's going to "burn off," so nobody thinks today's scheduled activities are in any real danger.
But it wasn't supposed to do this, either.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The weather is beautiful, wish you were here

HAMPTON, Ga. -- People literally do not know how to act here at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The weather here is fantastic. It's sunny and will be around 70 for a high today. The sun is supposed to linger through Sunday and it's supposed to be warm each day. It might rain Monday but that's OK, at least from the racing standpoint.
This is odd. No, it's not odd. It's downright weird.
It's about time Atlanta Motor Speedway gets a break like this. So many times we've been here and it has been raining -- or worse. It snowed here for a little while on Saturday morning just last year, and even when the sun has come out it has often been cold and blustery.
I don't know yet how many people this nice weather will bring out for Saturday's Truck Series race and Sunday's Sprint Cup race. But you have to believe that more people will show up to enjoy the great weather than would have decided to come if it was cold and rainy.
I've always believed that Atlanta Motor Speedway would be better off it were located as far northeast of Atlanta as it actually is south of the city. Put this track up somewhere between Commerce, where the drag strip is, and Suwanee, where Road Atlanta is, and I think you'd have more people show up here.
I've also always thought that part of Atlanta Motor Speedway's problem is that it's near Atlanta. This might sound like the same old Charlotte vs. Atlanta bias, but I think Atlanta is just an awful sports town -- especially pro sports. A lot of people can get fired up about Georgia Bulldogs football down this way, but that's about it. Some of that is justified, since this city's professional teams have kicked their fans in the teeth time and time again.
But any fan who has been loyal to Atlanta Motor Speedway over the years has probably got just about every kind of foul-weather gear you can imagine in his or her closet because at some point over the past few years he or she has needed it to endure a race here.
So for all of the people who do make it out here on Sunday, a nice day of weather will be a nice and well-deserved reward.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Take that camera and....

So apparently there are some people who're upset now because somebody put pictures of Kyle Busch's victory party after his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the Internet.

The pictures show Busch spraying champagne out of one of those big ol' bottles on the folks who joined him and his team for the party in the Hard Rock Hotel after his win in the Shelby 427.

The party happened when the team elected not to fly home Sunday night because of the weather back in North Carolina. They waited until early Monday, so Sunday night they decided to have a little bit of fun.

What's wrong with that, I ask?

If you're looking for me to give you a link to the pictures and the several pages of comments about them here, forget about it. I wouldn't do anything to help drive traffic to that web site because the whole idea of it drives me nuts.

Busch and his team wanted to celebrate. They got a place where they could get off by themselves and do their own thing. As far as I know there was nobody at the party who got so out of hand that he or she wasn't able to make the very early flight home on Monday (maybe they just celebrated right on through the night -- but again, what's wrong with that?). As far as I know nobody did anything heinous.

The chief complaint about the pictures on the Internet appears to be that Busch is "wasting money" by spraying champagne on people. The message, apparently, is that there are people who're out of work in racing and yet here are people on this team who're cavorting as though they don't have a care in the world.

Really? Just because there are problems in the sport nobody is allowed to have some fun after scoring a big victory? Just because there are people who're sad that means nobody in racing can be happy?

Give me a break.

Monday, March 02, 2009

NASCAR folks living the travel dream

LAS VEGAS -- If you hang around NASCAR for any length of time, you will hear somebody say the phrase "living the dream."

I have no idea who started it or why, but a lot of people use it as a stock sardonic reply to the idea that some of the people who think having a job in racing is a dream gig don't have any real idea that it's not all sunshine and lollipops all of the time.

This year during Speedweeks, the track public relations office had a sign on the wall with that phrase on it. It's to the point now that some folks will just say "LTD" and everybody knows what that means.

I say all of that today because the snow that fell overnight in Charlotte the return trip from Sunday's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has hardly turned into a "dream" for a lot of the NASCAR folks.

Several of the race teams delayed the departure of their own planes from Sunday night until in the daylight hours of Monday to give conditions time to improve before trying to get into Concord, which is where most of the NASCAR air fleet is based.

That may not sound like a big deal, but that's several hundred people who had to spend an extra 12 hours in Las Vegas about 2,700 miles from home. Work they would be doing today back at the teams' shops will have to be rescheduled and all of those people had to be fed and housed, causing the teams' additional expense.

Some teams fly most of their personnel commercially, especially on trips this far west. There are also dozens and dozens of people who work in the media, public relations and other industry-related jobs who were scheduled to go out on overnight flights late Sunday. Most of them, at least the ones to Charlotte, were canceled and I heard several people saying Sunday night they were being told it will be Tuesday -- at the earliest -- before they can expect to get out now.

(Before you even say it, this isn't about me. As of about 9 a.m. Monday, my flight home is still supposed to leave on schedule. Knock on wood.)