Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dale Jr. Picks Up the Tab


Dale Earnhardt Jr. made hundreds of folks happy last night at his bar Whisky River.

According to TMZ sources, Junior picked up the tab for more than 800 people who were hanging out at his Charlotte night club from 8 to 9 p.m.

Let's hope this bit of generosity appeases the gods of racing. If Junior ever needed some motorsports karma it's now. Perhaps this exercise in paying it forward will pay off for him on the track come Daytona.

Call me selfish, but I'm hoping Junior makes picking up the tab a habit at all Whisky River locations. Might be a good grand opening promotion to run when his Jacksonville, Fla. night club opens in 2010.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Twelfth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Twelve Legends Running

The Saturday Night Special at Bristol might just have been my favorite race of the season. Watching NASCAR legends Cale Yarborough, Harry Gant and Junior Johnson take the track was a potent blend of fun, excitement and unabashed nostalgia. It was a night to remember the sport's roots - and to show appreciation for some of the folks who made NASCAR what it is today.

Youngster Sterling Marlin ended up winning the event, but 70-year-old L.D. Ottinger caused the most excitement with his impressive third-place finish. Gant drove without a hood for most of the race and Rusty Wallace was tough as usual, bringing it home in second place.

Twelve drivers in all finished the race. In addition to Marlin, Yarborough, Gant, Johnson, Ottinger and Wallace - Terry Labonte, Jimmy Spencer, Phil Parsons, Jack Ingram, David Green and Larry Pearson.

The good news is, Bristol will host the race again on March 20, 2010 - only next year they're calling it the Scott's EZ Seed Showdown. So far Yarborough, Gant and Charlie Glotzbach are slated to race. Plus, admission is free with the purchase of a Nationwide ticket.

So that's it! The last NASCAR Day of Christmas. Here are the entire lyrics, as promised. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

The Twelve NASCAR Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, NASCAR gave to me
Twelve legends running
Eleven racers tweeting
Top tens for Gordon
Nine Years of Newman
Eight Drivers Feuding
Seven Wins for Junior
Six Restart Misses
Five Martin Wins!
Four championships
Three Monday races
Two Digger Minutes and
One smashed guitar trophy

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Eleventh NASCAR Day of Christmas: Eleven Racers Tweeting

The NASCAR community on Twitter is growing by leaps and bounds. Fans, media members and NASCAR officials have all embraced the social networking site to varying degrees.

The good news is, so have many of the sport's drivers. Michael Waltrip, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick and Kenny Wallace are the most prolific. Their amusing and sometimes curious status updates give fans a real-time glimpse not only of their personal lives, but of their off-track personalities.

Personally, I think every driver should Tweet for himself - or herself (and she does, by the way, @DanicaPatrick).

So as a Christmas Eve treat (or should I say "tweet") - I've posted a few of the most recent Tweets by the 11 drivers on Twitter who post the most regularly - and have the most interesting things to say. Happy Holidays!

Michael Waltrip @mw55: "Anyway merry christmas to all. Cause I ride on the christmas bus. If ur on a different bus, bless u too. Good night."

Juan Pablo Montoya @jpmontoya: "Missing a present for the wife hopefully shows up!!!"

Kevin Harvick @KevinHarvick: "just got home from a full day.feeding the dogs now then time for dinner."

Kenny Wallace @Kenny_Wallace: "Hello My friends!.. Kim and I have decided this will be the first Christmas we Do Not Buy each other Big Gifts... All about our 3 Girls.."

Brian Vickers @brianvickers83: "is at the CV Products Holiday party and finishing up Christmas shopping today."

Kasey Kahne @kaseykahne: "Getting my hair cut off then I need to start christmas shopping. Should be a great week"

Denny Hamlin @dennyhamlin: "got half my christmas shopping done. did i mention that i dont know what to buy anyone.. i hate that about xmas. gift cards it is!"

Max Papis @maxpapis: "http://twitpic.com/usy99 - Relaxing from my room ...this is close to paradise"

Elliott Sadler @Elliott_Sadler: "Eatin dinner tonight for christmas eve eve. Let the diet have a rest for few days!! Should be fun!!"

Ryan Newman @RyanNewman39: "Put up some more deer cams & fed the deer. Wonder who we will see on there this time? http://bit.ly/7sCuFb"

Bobby Labonte @Bobby_Labonte: "Saw this photo at a friends house tonight. 1984 In Bristol. Left side 2nd row up. Good times. http://twitpic.com/ulhmb"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from NASCAR's "Straight No Chasers"

Last year, the men's a capella group "Straight No Chaser" caused quite a stir with their inventive version of the song "Twelve Days of Christmas."

Inspired by the group, a few of the drivers who didn't make the Sprint Cup Chase in 2009 (Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer) put together their own little song of Christmas cheer. So sit back and enjoy NASCAR's own "Straight No Chasers" - and Happy Festivus everybody!


The Tenth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Top Tens for Gordon



Jeff Gordon may not have beaten his protege for the Sprint Cup Championship - but he did best Jimmie Johnson in another category in 2009.

Believe it or not, Jeff Gordon ended the season with 25 top 10 finishes- one better than Jimmie Johnson's 24. Of course it's not exactly as impressive as being the four-time consecutive champion.

Though they pulled out their first-ever win at Texas, Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte just couldn't get it together enough to pose a serious threat to Jimmie the "Golden Boy". Ergo, Gordon's season ended with one win, one pole, third place in the Chase standings - and a lot of disappointment.

Gordon even admitted that his late-season frustration had a lot to do with watching the guy he brought into the Hendrick fold (and the man whose car he happens to own) outrun him lap after lap. Gordon said in October, "I'm not going to go over and pat him on the back and say how great he is and 'I love you, man' when I really want to beat him." In fact, he told the media that Johnson's unmatched performance had somewhat dulled their once shining friendship.

By my estimation, Gordon has a few more years to prove he's still go what it takes to win a championship or two. And he just might be mad enough after this season to really go after it. Assuming the arthritis in his back doesn't act up and that his car doesn't suffer any mysterious parts failures, look for Gordon to mount a serious charge to the front of the pack in 2010.

You never know, come next November it just might be Johnson who's pretending to be happy that Gordon is holding the trophy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Ninth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Ninth Place for Newman

Ryan Newman has come a long way since he and his boss Tony Stewart wrecked during practice for this year's Daytona 500.

Fortunately, unlucky beginnings don't always mean unhappy endings. And Newman ended his season with a ninth-place spot in the points standings - his best ranking since 2005. All in all, The Rocket Man snagged five top-five finishes and 15 top tens - and he did it with the backing of Tony Stewart's fledgling Stewart-Haas Racing team.

But what will likely live forever as Newman's most memorable moment of 2009 won't be his pre-season tangle with Tony or his respectable top 10 points standing. It will be his infamous wreck at Talladega, which caused the fans in the stands and those watching at home to hold their collective breaths and pray that he'd walk away from that U.S. Army car in one piece.

When Newman went airborne during the Nov. 1 race, I and the rest of the fans in attendance experienced a few anxious minutes as we wondered if he was OK. Newman hung upside down for what seemed like forever and then, finally, emergency officals cut him out of his race car and freed the driver from his harrowing position.

After his release from the infield care center, a shaken Newman railed at NASCAR and suggested they take advantage of his engineering degree to help make cars and drivers safer at superspeedways like Dega. The powers-that-be took Ryan up on his offer, and met with the Purdue University grad the very next week.

We'll see in a little more than 50 days if Newman's engineering suggestions were taken under advisement. Let's hope NASCAR listened.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tony Stewart - a Teddy Bear at Heart?


Tony Stewart may be a hard-nosed driver on race day, but when it comes to helping others he's all heart.

Stewart worked with the Office Depot Foundation on its National Backpack Program in 2009 and is encouraging NASCAR fans to consider purchasing a Teddy B. Caring this holiday season. The proceeds from the sale of this Gund®-manufactured bear will benefit several of the Foundation's charitable initiatives.

“It has been very humbling for me to be part of the Office Depot Foundation’s National Backpack Program this past year and to see the real impact the program has on kids in need,” Stewart said. “Every child deserves to go to school with the tools they need to succeed and to have that extra boost of confidence in the classroom. I would encourage everyone to consider giving a Teddy B. Caring bear as a gift this holiday season in support of the great work the Office Depot Foundation does all year long.”

The proceeds from the sale of each bear will benefit the National Backpack Program, Caring Connection, Dream UP Career Exploration Program, Follow Your Dream Scholarship Program and 1-888-MY BIZ Help (which helps small businesses recover after disasters).

Teddy B. Caring is available in two sizes – a 9” gift card holding bear and a 16” full-size bear – and is priced at $3.99 and $7.99, respectively. The bear can be purchased at Office Depot retail stores or online at http://www.officedepot.com/.


Photo credit: Action Sports Photography

The Eighth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Eight Drivers Feuding




NASCAR isn't NASCAR without a feud or two during the season. But alas, now that they're worried about their "brands" and media image, today's drivers are more polished and restrained than they were back in the days of Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison.

The good news is, when they're pushed enough, drivers can still get ugly. But unlike yesteryear, the ugliness gets shared more on Twitter than in the infield. By my count, there were at least eight feuding drivers of note during 2009. Next year, I'm hoping that number jumps to 10 - and that fans get to see a punch or two in the bargain.

Brad Keselowski vs. Denny Hamlin - or as I like to call it, the feud that keeps on giving. This Nationwide Series rivalry sure did heat up at the end of the season - with Denny calling Brad a no-talent driver and Brad accusing Hamlin of having personal issues. Now that Keselowski is running in Cup full time in 2010, look for the fight to get real interesting.

Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Tony Stewart - Juan Pablo Montoya is one competitive cuss. Not even firebrand Tony Stewart intimidates him. Homestead was proof positive of that. The pair tangled three times during the race and it ended with a worse-for-wear JPM heading back to the track to wreck the No. 14 car. Unfortunately, this feud looks like it died a quick death on the track. The pair was seen joking together during Champions Week in Vegas - how cozy.

Kurt Busch versus Jimmie Johnson - These two tangled in Sonoma and Chicago - and hotheaded Busch let it be known that Johnson was on his hit list. "I'm starting to lose faith in his ability to be a three-time champion on the track," Busch said. "I'm disappointed. I gave him room and we got pounded into the fence." Yet Busch couldn't sustain his vendetta over the long haul. And instead of ruining his rival's hopes for a Championship, he watched from fourth place as Johnson cruised through a history-making season. Wonder if he'll make up for it in 2010?

Greg Biffle versus Joey Logano - Who could pick a fight with Joey Logano? He's like a cross between a golden retriever puppy and a Tiger Beat cover boy. But that's just what Greg Biffle did during the pair's Nationwide foray. A little miffed from previous dustups with the kid, The Biff wrecked Logano on purpose in California, right after radioing to his crew he was planning to do so. But, in an ironic twist of fate, the night ended with Logano in Victory Lane and Biffle left vowing revenge. He never got it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Seventh NASCAR Day of Christmas: Seven Wins for Junior


No, you didn't misread the headline. Dale Earnhardt Jr. did win something this season - namely the Chex Most Popular Driver award - giving him seven wins total for this fan-driven honor.

“You look at Richard Petty and Bill Elliott and I’ve always felt that if you win this award once then you are in good company. I’m real proud of it," Earnhardt Jr. said when his win was announced. "The fans have hung in there and gave me one heck of a Christmas gift.”

Given the year the #88 team had, he's right. That proof of his continued fan loyalty had to be the lone high point in a valley-filled year. Struggling through two crew chiefs, multiple pit road issues and just plain bad luck, Junior's season seemed doomed from the start. And even though the team ran some better toward the end of '09, the black cloud that parked itself over the #88 car at Daytona didn't evaporate at Homestead - Junior's finishes were not indicative of a team that was on the right track.

If Dale Jr. doesn't come out of the gate strong in February, talking heads will likely point to Danicamania as one of the reasons why. The driver has often been accused of caring more about "his brand" than winning races - and the addition of Danica Patrick to the JRM fold certainly caused his company's marketability and sponsorship exposure to skyrocket.

Yet I predict that even if Patrick wrecks the entire field at Fontana and the #88 driver finishes in 30th place in every race in 2010, Junior will still walk away with an eighth most popular driver award next December.

Junior's likeability and resulting popularity with the fans isn't defined by his performance. That said, his future as a Hendrick Motorsports driver is - which is why the 2010 season could well be the most important year in Earnhardt Jr's career. Rick Hendrick has repeatedly said his focus will be the #88 team's performance - and he has intimated that he's ready to make whatever changes are necessary to get Junior performing as well as the rest of his drivers.

So hang on to your helmets. Whether Junior wins or loses, 2010 is gonna be one heckuva news year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Sixth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Six Restart Misses

Drivers get fined for reckless behavior. Crew chiefs get fined for failing inspection. So why not fine TV networks for gaffes that seriously affect the fans' enjoyment of each race?

Maybe if such a policy had been enacted in 2009, the networks would not have missed half a dozen restarts like they did this season - a cardinal sin in the world of motorsports broadcasting.

Miss a flub up on pit road? Not a biggie. Miss a lead change? Not cool. But miss a restart? Pay up, chump.

Unfortunately for the residents of "The Hollywood Hotel", if the biggest offenders were the most heavily fined, then the FOX network would be paying dearly. They were responsible for four of the six missed Cup series restarts this season.

The boys at FOX missed one restart each during the network's broadcasts of the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta, the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville, the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix, and the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond. ESPN/ABC missed two total - at Watkins Glen and the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte, respectively. Only TNT managed to catch every restart - but then again, they only broadcast six races all season.

Now that restarts on the Cup side are all "double file, shootout style," they can get real hairy. And there's simply no reason why fans at home should miss such a vital, and potentially exciting, portion of the race. Period.

Maybe the fines gained from such a policy could go toward the The NASCAR Foundation or Victory Junction - or even a broadcast journalism scholarship fund. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Fifth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Five Martin Wins!



Stop with the old jokes already. Nothing about Mark Martin suggests he's old enough for a rocking-chair retirement or a membership to AARP.

Far from it. In 2009, Martin and the No. 5 team nearly kept Jimmie Johnson from making history. They were just 141 points shy.

Driving like a kid this season, The Kid collected poles like some folks collect state quarters, managing to snag five wins all told. And he did it all with that trademark Martin grin and the humility of a saint.

It's no wonder that Martin is giving Dale Earnhardt Jr. a run for his money in the popularity department. No matter who their favorite driver is, just about every fans cheers for Martin at every race. But how could you not? He's the quintessential sentimental favorite.

Very few 50-year-olds (Ron Hornaday comes to mind) can compete with young guns less than half their age at the sport's highest levels.

Perhaps that's why the folks at NASCAR Illustrated voted Martin their 2009 Person of the Year. And the fact that the award was sponsored by Old Spice? Merely coincidence.

Just ask his competition - Martin's 2009 season was nothing to laugh at.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Fourth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Four Championships



In case you didn't hear it enough in November, let me reiterate. Jimmie Johnson is the first-ever consecutive four-time Cup champion in NASCAR history.

Dale Earnhardt didn't do it. Richard Petty didn't do it. And alas, neither did Cale Yarborough. Johnson and Johnson alone is king of the NASCAR heap.

And that's not all. In 2009, Johnson took seven trips to Victory Lane, racked up 16 top five finishes and led a career-high 2,238 laps.

Not bad for a guy who's only been racing at NASCAR's highest level since 2001.

And the hits keep coming. Today, it was announced that Johnson has won the Driver of the Year Award for the third time - an honor which encompasses all the racing series in the United States and is voted on by 20 journalists and broadcasters nationwide.

With stats and accolades coming out his ears, you might ask what can possibly be left for the champ to conquer?

Only a little thing called the Rolex 24 at Daytona. That's where you'll find Johnson come January 30 and 31, as he races with teammates Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney and Jimmy Vasser. To date, Johnson's best finish at the marathon event is second place - a spot he earned in both 2005 and 2008. But with a win this go-round, Johnson would become the first Cup champ EVER to win the Rolex title.

And a win for JJ isn't that far-fetched. If the past four years are any indication, Johnson will likely best this race too. Right now, there doesn't seem to be any kryptonite that can slow Superman down.


Photo info: Jimmie Johnson celebrates his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship at Homestead, courtesy of Reuters

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Third NASCAR Day of Christmas: Three Monday Races

From the get-go, Mother Nature seemed ready to play havoc with NASCAR this year. Matt Kenseth's rain-shortened win at the Daytona 500 started it off. And by season's end, three Cup races during had to be run on Monday due to inclement weather.

The Coca-Cola 600 was one of those rained-delayed races.

But rainy days and Mondays sure didn't get David Reutimann down. When more precipitation hit the track on Monday, NASCAR officials called the race early, giving Reutimann his first Sprint Cup victory and Michael Waltrip Racing its first win ever.

Reutimann and Waltrip celebrated the victory with a most exuberant man-hug. And I predict Waltrip will be doing more hugging in 2010 - he's added Martin Truex Jr. to the MWR fold and Marcos Ambrose had some darn good showings to build on for next season.

The other two Monday winners? Denny Hamlin at Pocono in August and Tony Stewart, just one week later, at Watkins Glen.

Hamlin's win - his first in 2009 - gave the #11 team the momentum it needed to end the season mid-Chase. And Stewart, well his victory at Watkins helped cement his spot as the regular season champ.

See? Rain's not so bad after all.

Photo info: Waltrip and Reutimann talk things over during the Coca-Cola 600 rain delay.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Second NASCAR Day of Christmas: Two Digger Minutes

The 2009 Cup season marked the second birthday of the world's most controversial rodent. Hoping for another revenue stream, FOX put some serious dollars and promotional power behind Digger, the infamous gopher, by premiering two-minute Digger and Friends cartoons during the network's pre-race coverage.

Unfortunately for FOX, the cartoon didn't garner quite the reponse the powers-that-be had banked on. To clarify, the new cartoon episodes went over like week-old roadkill with hard core race fans. Digger and his pals became the subject of blog hate and fan disdain, which eventually led to a change in next year's FOX lineup - no more Digger two-minute cartoons in 2010.

Word is that next season, the gopher will still pop up with his Digger cam, and there will be corresponding merchandise and advertisements. However, "The Adventures of Digger and Friends" won't make a return appearance to the FOX airwaves.

Don't worry. If you're one of the few who will truly miss Digger - you can still watch some of the episodes on Hulu and Youtube. Plus, the Digger theme song (sung by Keith Urban) can be purchased on iTunes.

Personally, I wasn't a Digger champion. But the episode below was actually a little amusing - it just would have played better on Saturday morning where it belonged.



Monday, December 14, 2009

First NASCAR Day of Christmas: One Smashed Guitar Trophy

Kyle Busch busting the Sam Bass trophy at Nashville was one of the dumbest moves of the season. But it sure did cement Rowdy as one of the most fascinating people of NASCAR.

In one foul smash, Busch took what should have been a stellar night in Victory Lane and fueled a firestorm of consternation among fans, officials and even the artist who designed the trophy in the first place.

As a driver, it was an ill-conceived gesture by a star whose behind-the-wheel talent stands in sharp contrast to his out-of-car antics. But as a big-time owner, would such behavior have had more serious ramifications?

It's a question worth asking. For now, six months after guitar-gate, we learn that Busch is going to own his own truck team. In a Friday press conference, Busch announced that Kyle Busch Motorsports will step up to the Camping World Truck Series and run at least two full-time trucks in 2010.

Although he may yet prove all naysayers wrong, right now it seems inconceivable that Busch's judgment has matured so quickly from that balmy summer night in Music City.

Sure, team ownership has nearly tamed the tiger Tony Stewart. But Busch is years Stewart's junior and can't even be bothered to talk to the media when he loses a race. This is hardly the behavior one would expect from a top-tier owner. Nor is this an example to set for his new employees, drivers Brian Ickler and Taylor Malsam.

So to trucks Rowdy will go along with former KHI crew chief Rick Ren as his director of competition. How the new venture will pan out remains to be seen. But one thing's for sure - if Busch is involved, it sure won't be boring.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Introducing the NASCAR Days of Christmas

The off-season is a barren place for a NASCAR blogger to be. And in the quest to come up with posts during these darkest of days, I've concocted a device that should keep this site chugging through Advent - the NASCAR Days of Christmas.

In deference to those of a more liturgical bent, I realize that the actual 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas day and end on Epiphany, January 5. But, for our less exalted purposes, the days preceding the holiday will work just fine.

Each day, I'll offer a NASCAR-esque version of a day from the traditional carol. So be sure to check back for the corresponding NASCAR day of Christmas. And come Christmas morning, you'll have a completed version of the song - all for your very own. Don't say I never gave you anything!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If You Can't Get Enough Jimmie ...

If you didn't get of enough Jimmie Johnson during Champion's Week or every single race of The Chase for that matter, then you're in luck. HBO is bringing a boatload of Jimmie to your cable TV this winter.

HBO Sports' "24/7" reality franchise will debut its first non-boxing series with "24/7 Jimmie Johnson: Race to Daytona," an all-access series chronicling Jimmie and the No. 48 team as they prepare for the Daytona 500.

Debuting Tuesday, Jan. 26th at 10 p.m. ET, this four-week series spotlights the reigning four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and gives viewers exclusive behind-the-scenes access, along with in-depth interviews with Jimmie, crew chief Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.

Let me speak frankly, this is one chick who wouldn't mind spending 24 hours with Jimmie Johnson. He could clean my pool, change a light bulb or just sit there and look pretty. But alas, the likelihood of that happening is less than me winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Guess I'll be tuning in come January for my Jimmie fix.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A NASCAR Festivus for the Rest of Us

If tinsel and lights ain't your thing and the commercialism of Christmas is making you blue, then call your friends, break out the aluminum pole, and prepare yourself for an alternative holiday tradition.

In the spirit of Seinfeld and the unforgettable Frank Costanza, I'm celebrating an early "Festivus for the Rest of Us." A holiday that flies in the face of the more positive spirit of the season, Festivus has become a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. And to that end, I'm participating in one of the celebration's official rites, The Airing of Grievances, NASCAR-style, of course.

It goes without saying that NASCAR is the sport we all know and love. But even in the best of times there's room for improvement. So if anyone out there is listening, here are some issues that the folks in NASCAR could work on next year.

So read on and feel free to share some grievances of your own. Oh, and Happy Festivus!

1. The dreaded phantom debris caution - When the yellow flag is flown for debris of unknown origin, it does level the playing field and make things more exciting. Unfortunately, there are so many phantom debris cautions, the term has now become practically synonymous with "the fix is in." So, I propose a new rule - no debris cautions unless the debris can and will be shown by the cameras. Capisce?

2. More coverage of Champion's Week - Other than those lucky enough to be on the Strip, most race fans missed the live Victory Lap in Vegas and the Jimmie Johnson roast. Plus,the gaping time delay on banquet night meant fans were up 'til 1 a.m. to watch what they had already read about on Twitter. Quite frankly, I'd rather see more comprehensive coverage of Champion's Week than listen to Jeff Hammond massacre the names of high-end designers (Badgley Mischka comes to mind) during the red carpet part of the show. Let's do better next year.

3. Better info. at the track - The races I went to this year had one thing in common - track workers who didn't exactly know how to answer my questions (such as where do I catch the infield shuttle, what gate is closest to my seat and where's the concert stage for the Zac Brown band). I do realize that putting on a NASCAR event is a phenomenal undertaking, and not every worker can be a walking repository of all the weekend's knowledge, but basic questions ought to be able to be addressed.

4. More feuds - So I realize this grievance might make me sound a bit redneck, but so be it. Whether it's Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya or Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, NASCAR needs some more drama. Fans don't want drivers holding hands 'round an EZ Grill and singing Kum Bay Ya. We want some trash talk, some paint-tradin' and maybe a driver who "rains blows upon" another driver. Let's hope Hamlin and Special K don't cool down in the off-season like Smoke and JP seemed to do.



Monday, December 7, 2009

Yes Danica, There Is a Santa Claus


And his name is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

If today's media reports are true, Dale Jr. and company will make Danica Patrick's NASCAR wishes come true in 2010.

The long-awaited news broke today that the IndyCar star and erstwhile GoDaddy Girl will officially drive for JR Motorsports next year. The speculation is that she'll run a partial schedule in the Nationwide Series (about 12 races total) as well ARCA.

The official announcement will come tomorrow at 1 p.m. EST in Phoenix, and GoDaddy.com will stream the press conference live.

Though the potential Patrick/Junior partnership was one of the worst-kept secrets in all of racing, the offical word does lend a heightened level of anticipation to Daytona Speedweeks. Just imagine the papparazzi blitz that will descend on the infield when Danica makes her NASCAR debut.

And that's all well and good for now - considering how badly the sport needs ticket sales, television viewership and consumer dollars. But contrary to popular belief, this may not be a winner of a situation for Patrick. If she doesn't live up to the hype and show some promise early on, the "I told you so's" will commence and race fans will, once again, not take a woman seriously.

On the flip side, if she exceeds all expectations and starts out-racing the likes of Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and (dare I say it?) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. himself, that could come with its own set of problems. As my five-year-old nephew said when I told him there would be a female driver in NASCAR next year, "Boys don't like it when girls win, you know."

Yup, NASCAR is a man's world, Danica. And not even Dale Earnhardt Jr. can do anything about that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How To Kick Those Off-Season Blues

So the 2009 NASCAR season is officially over. The awards have been doled out. The drivers have left Vegas. And the fans are left all alone, to stare wistfully at their diecast collection and count off the calendar days 'til Daytona.

While I can't promise that the off-season will be as fulfilling as say, a weekend at Bristol, there are indeed a few ways to maintain your body's minimum racing requirement during this oh-so dark time.

Get comfy: Kick off your shoes, settle into your favorite chair and pop in a DVD. Okay, so this isn't quite the same as watching a live race, but now might be a good time to rewatch all those old standbys like Days of Thunder, Talladega Nights, Stroker Ace and even Disney's Cars. For a more realistic viewing experience, check out Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story, NASCAR: The Ride of Their Lives, Daytona 500 - 50 Years of the Great American Race, NASCAR -The IMAX Experience, or 3 - The Dale Earnhardt Story.

Go virtual: For the gamers out there, there's hours of fun to be had with NASCAR Kart Racing and NASCAR 09 . And, if your friends are suffering from the off-season blues like you, why not throw a mock tailgate party while you hit the virtual track? You could even serve Fresh Start (or as I like to call them "Green Flag") Brownies for a little something sweet. But if you take virtual racing a little more seriously (and you're willing to purchase a steering wheel and a monthly payment plan), then bite the bullet and sign up for iRacing.com. It's the NASCAR-sanctioned, premier online motorsports simulator that even pro drivers use.

Get real: If virtual racing just won't cut it, then get in the stock car yourself. It just so happens that the Richard Petty Driving Experience is currently offering $59 holiday ride-a-long experiences at 20 tracks across the country. That's 45 percent off the regular price. Reservations for ride-alongs are not required, and you'll ride shotgun for three laps around the track at speeds up to 165 mph. If you prefer to get behind the wheel yourself, well that's a little more pricey. But it is Christmas - you never know what Santa might leave in your stocking.

Take a trip: Lots of NASCAR-sanctioned tracks offer tours and several of them have museums and other fun exhibits which are open to the public. Of course, it may make you weep with longing to visit a track during the off-season, but in the long run it will give you just the fix you need. Plus, on race day, who has time to watch the NASCAR IMAX movie at Daytona or visit the Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum? Look at your current downtime as an opportunity and not an obstacle. And if you're fortunate enough to live near the Charlotte area, be sure to tour your favorite team's headquarters.

Tweet and Retweet: I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you're not on Twitter, then you're missing out. Lots of drivers are sharing their off-season plans about now and if anything big breaks (like an announcment by Danica), you'll be the first to know if you have a Twitter account.

Read Up: Now's an opportune time to catch up on your NASCAR reading. And fortunately for fans, there are plenty of racing books from which to choose. Here are a couple of my picks: Then Junior Said to Jeff--: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told by veteran NACAR reporter Jim McLaurin and Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR by Neal Thompson.

So buck up little race fan. The Daytona 500 begins in just 69 days. And until then, here's a little Vegas video to tide you over.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mark Martin - Simply the Best

Sometimes simple is better. And during his speech at last night's Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet, Mark Martin proved once again that he is simply the best.

The banquet's setting was anything but simple. The glitzy Vegas ballroom featured choreographed violinists, sequins, confetti, pop music and pre-fab speeches.

Then there was Mark Martin.

Martin, who watched the biggest dream of his career drive away with the #48 at Homestead, wasn't accepting a championship trophy. But his words last night were championship caliber.

After sitting through several tired jokes about his age, Martin got up to speak. He didn't use his time at the podium to talk up the "Mark Martin brand" nor did he use humor to mask potshots at his competitors.

With a level of sincerity and thoughtfulness that none of the other drivers managed to muster, Martin cut through the trappings and got right to the heart of things.

He began by thanking his wife for her support - and then sweetly choked up as he told her she still gave him butterflies after all these years. With humble respect, he told Rick Hendrick that Hendrick was a champion of a person and said "I want to be more like you." He thanked the fans who had cheered him on through his racing career, and also those of a certain age who, this season, adopted him as proof that your life doesn't have to slow down as you get older.

He even graciously thanked the crew chiefs of his teammates for welcoming him to Hendrick Motorsports - including the beleaguered Tony Eury, Jr.

Finally, in the manner of a father imparting some hard-got wisdom, Martin said he wanted to talk about what's really important in life. He said it's not the number of trophies that you win--because those feelings fade. People. Friendships. Memories. Family. These, said Martin, are what is truly important - and what will last a lifetime.

Simple truths from the heart of a champion.

Here's hoping Martin gets that championship in 2010.

Photo info: Mark Martin and his wife Arlene at Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Whisky River to Run Through Jacksonville

Hang on to your mechanical bull.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and company plan to open a new location of Whisky River night club this spring in Jacksonville, Fla. The club will be located in The Markets at St. Johns Town Center on the city's Southside. Sources say that March 2010 is the target grand opening date.

Not that Junior asked my opinion, but it would sure make more sense to me to open the club during Daytona Speedweeks. Jacksonville isn't too far from the track and just think about all the hype you could drum up for the big opening night. Plus, an appearance by Dale Jr. himself sure wouldn't be bad for business.

Photo: Whisky River, coming soon to Jacksonville, Florida





Monday, November 30, 2009

Your Burning NASCAR Questions Answered

NASCAR fans are an inquisitive bunch. And during the 2009 season, they had plenty of burning questions, pressing queries and confusing conundrums that begged to be answered.

Below are the top 10 NASCAR searches typed into the Ask.com search engine this year - and whaddaya know - we've even come up with a few answers to go with them.

1. How do NASCAR drivers go to the bathroom? The fact that this was the most-searched NASCAR question of 2009 just goes to show where folks minds are on race day. Right in the toilet. But take heart NASCAR nation, there IS an answer to this rather personal query. Most drivers go before they squeeze into the car. And on hot days, drivers can lose so much fluid during a race, that they typically don't get the urge. If nature does come calling, their only recourse is to go in the suit.

2. How much do NASCAR drivers get paid? If your name is Reed Sorenson, the answer would be a big fat zero. But most drivers DO get paid - and handsomely. Each driver has his own contract and according to Forbes.com, a driver can make as much as $35 million annually. I seriously chose the wrong line of work.

3. What is Dale Earnhardt Jr's girlfriend's name? The offical word is that he's not dating anyone seriously "at this time." But whether you believe this or not all depends on which message board you read. There are rumors circulating that Junebug has been racing online and discussing his current "serious" relationship with fellow cyber racers. But again, who the heck knows. I always thought his most serious relationship was with Tony Eury Jr., but I've been known to be wrong.

4. What does NASCAR stand for? Now what self-respecting NASCAR fan would need to ask such a remedial question? No, it's not "Noise And Smoke, Cars And Races" nor is it "Non-Athletic Sport Centered Around Rednecks" - it's the National Assocation For Stock Car Auto Racing. 'Nuff said!

5. What is Burnout Alley? Contrary to popular belief, this isn't the place where Goodyears go to die. It's the new super luxurious camping spot at Texas Motor Speedway. Check it out here.

6. Who is Tony Stewart dating? Well it isn't me, that's for sure (not that I'm not available...but that's another blog). However, if you want to take a ride on the rumor mill, this site has some Stewart love info. - past, present and rumored.

7. How do you get a job on a pit crew? The answer is simple - it's what you know AND who you know. The advice online is to make friends at a short track and/or go to pit crew school. For more info. from the experts, check out this article.

8. How do you become a NASCAR driver? This answer could take pages, but you basically have to start young, have talent and work your way up through the racing ranks. OR you could just pose half-naked for a few men's magazines and drive Indy cars for a living...I'm just saying.

9. Why are there flyovers at NASCAR races? Race fans have Bill France Sr. to thank for the fantastic flyovers before each race. The France family has always been particularly patriotic and they often offered free race tickets to members of the military.

10. What do NASCAR drivers wear under their suits? We thought about getting this answer from Michael Waltrip. Then we thought again. Not sure about Mikey, but most drivers wear a T-shirt and shorts or underwear. However, whether boxers are more popular than briefs on race day is not for me to say.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Confessions of a NASCAR Napper

So it's the first Sunday afternoon sans NASCAR, and I have an awful confession to make.

While I miss the high-speed drama, the smoking tires, and all that goes with race day, what I'm really missing right now is my NASCAR nap.

Don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about.

The Sunday afternoon NASCAR nap is a beloved pastime in living rooms and dens across America. And although I don't nap during every race, I particularly enjoy it when the circuit hits tracks like Pocono or Michigan.

Come on, you've been there. You've just partaken of a satisfying Sunday dinner, you've changed out of your church clothes, and you're settled in to watch the race on your lounging furniture of choice. Before you know it, it's 70 laps in, there's a long green-flag run, and you've drifted off to dreamland.

Can I get a witness?

The beauty of the NASCAR nap, is that it can indeed be a group activity. I've watched races with friends, and before you know it three out of four of us are out like a light - leaving the alert one in the group to hit us in the shoulder when say, David Stremme, causes a caution. So here's NASCAR nap rule #1 - if you're group napping, be sure to assign a designated watcher.

NASCAR nap rule #2 - NASCAR napping doesn't work so well when you're actually at the track. It's too noisy for one thing and you just might get stepped on by an irate Kyle Busch fan. I admit I haven't actually tried (or wanted to try) at-the-track-napping - something tells me it would only lead to disaster. However, when you're in the calm and safety of your own abode, well the NASCAR nap is a beautiful thing.

NASCAR nap rule #3 - Get a DVR. The DVR is heaven's gift to us NASCAR nappers. With it, we can doze a little and not miss a beat. If roused by an excited commentator and the sound of crunching metal, just hit rewind to see what all the fuss is about.

NASCAR nap rule #4 - Be selective when napping. I don't suggest napping through Bristol or the Daytona 500 (even though the 500 is tempting, simply because there is such a long period in which to snooze). Save your naptime for the historically less dramatic races - and even then be judicious. You never know when a day at Loudon could end up like Talladega.

NASCAR nap rule #5 - Don't hate me because I nap. I'm no less of a NASCAR fan because I sometimes doze off during a race or two. And I think my fellow nappers would agree - they don't call Sunday the day of rest for nothing!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tiger, You Are Not Alone

Yesterday's news about Tiger Woods hitting a hydrant, then a tree, then being dragged from his SUV by his gold-club-wielding wife is bizarre in the extreme. And the image of him bleeding on the street and drifting in and out of consciousness is a bit surreal. Perhaps I'm a cynic, but if I were the investigating officer, I'd file that accident report in the "There's More To That Story" folder.

However, Tiger is a decent enough guy, and I wouldn't want him to feel unduly embarrassed. So take heart Tiger, the world of racing has also had its share of bizarro, non-sports related injuries. For instance, whilst Tiger is a golfer who hurt himself driving, Jimmie Johnson is a driver who hurt himself golfing. Remember Jimmie's wrist-breaking cart tumble in 2006?

And just like any other year, 2009 has also seen a spate of oddball aches and pains:

Jimmie Johnson - the sequel: Johnson followed up his golf cart fall with a cut to his finger in early 2009. According to reports, Johnson sliced his left middle finger with a kitchen knife while trying to cut a hole in his firesuit. Hopefully, in 2010, Johnson will leave all wardrobe prep to the professionals.

Captain Biffle - Pardon the pun, but driver Greg Biffle took a lot of "ribbing" for his slip while boating with buddies earlier this year. Biffle suffered some painful bruised ribs as he leapt (unsuccessfully) from the dock to his boat. The injury caused The Biff to miss the Spring Nationwide race at Bristol for his admittedly boneheaded move. "So it's just one of those freak, stupid accidents where you take a fall and you have no way to stop it or brace it or grab, because I was over top of water. You're going to land on your ribs with all your weight, plus you jumped on top of it, so it was a stupid deal," Biffle said at the time.

Seriously, a Frisbee? - Who can forget Carl Edwards' fight with a Frisbee...or whatever it was that caused him to break his foot while participating in a pastime that's beloved by small children everywhere? Due to the resulting fractured foot, Cousin Carl spent a few weeks on crutches. And he also had to forego his signature race-winning backflip in favor of a less load-bearing move. Namely, the celebratory somersault.

A One-Man Wrecking Machine - In October, driver Michael Waltrip was involved in an off-track mashup in North Carolina that didn't hurt himself, per se, but did leave a motorcyclist with minor inuries. Ol' Mikey was cited for failure to yield, while the motorcyclist suffered some bruises and swelling. The incident proves my hypothesis that Waltrip must either be crash happy in his late career or in serious need of an eye exam - because the guy can't stay out of wrecks on the track either.

Photo info: Carl Edwards does a celebratory somersault after winning at Phoenix.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Message to Gordon: "No Ray, No Way!"

When NASCAR fans get together, table talk inevitably turns to racing.

Even Thanksgiving dinner is no exception. My own holiday was spent with a group of dear friends, off a red dirt road in the Carolina pines. I was well aware that I was sharing turkey with a group of self-proclaimed NASCAR experts. So I wasn't surprised when the conversation turned from Clemson football and the morning's duck hunt to a little bit of NASCAR speculation.

What did suprise me, was that the hottest topic wasn't Jimmie Johnson's championship feat, the Stewart/Montoya season-ending shootout, nor the latest tribulations of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Instead, the talking points centered around Jeff Gordon's lack of success and the rumor that his former crew chief Ray Evernham wants to re-enter the NASCAR garage.

First, let it be known that nobody wishes Gordon's current man Steve Letarte, any ill will. He's a darn fine crew chief in his own right - and third place in the Chase is nothing to sneeze at. However, when you're talking about the type of chemistry that propelled Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus into the history books at Homestead, then you've got to admit that Gordon and Evernham had it in spades.

Together, the pair won 47 Cup races and three Cup championships in 1995, 1997 and 1998. And though he's had some wins since, Gordon hasn't seen that level of success since Evernham left Hendrick Motorsports in 1999.

In other words, if Gordon seeks to make a late-career championship charge, the message is clear: "No Ray, No Way!" In the view of the biggest Gordon fan at the table, Ray is Jeff's last, best hope to give his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports a run for their money. Letarte isn't going to cut it. And the excitement that an Evernham/Gordon reunion would generate amid racing circles would be pretty fantastic.

Of course right now, a Jeff and Ray redux is merely a Carolina pipe dream--along with Clemson winning the national championship and Strom Thurmond returning to the United States Senate.

But then again... stranger things have happened.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Celebrate With Jimmie Johnson

If you're a fan of Jimmie Johnson (and let's face it, isn't everyone these days?) and you happen to be near the West Coast, head on over to the Lowe's in Santee, Calif. on Monday, Nov. 30 for a championship celebration.

That's when Team Lowe's will be marking Johnson's history-making championship win - with live music and an appearance and Q&A session with the driver himself.

The party takes place from 7 to 10 p.m. November 30 at Lowe's of Santee, California, located at 9416 Mission Gorge Rd. The event is open to the public - no tickets are necessary.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jimmie and Chad - So Happy Together

They're as good together as peanut butter jelly. They're in tune like The Captain and Tennille. They're as comfy as a pair of Levi's and a worn t-shirt.

And apparently, this match made in that big garage in the sky is staying together for several years to come.

This weekend, Chad Knaus signed a contract extension that will keep him paired with champ Jimmie Johnson until the year 2015.

And although it would be pretty darn fascinating to see how Knaus would fare with say, Dale Earnhardt Jr as his driver, a team owner would be a fool to mess with the chemistry shared by Jimmie and Chad. After all, these stats from Hendrick Motorsports speak for themselves:

  • After earning the 2009 Sprint Cup championship, Jimmie Johnson is now the first driver ever to capture the honor in four consecutive seasons. With his 2006-2008 titles, Johnson tied the legendary Cale Yarborough, who recorded three in a row from 1976-1978.

  • Chad Knaus is the only crew chief ever to win more than two consecutive Sprint Cup titles (he now has four in a row), and his championship total (also four) ties him for second with Kirk Shelmerdine among crew chiefs in NASCAR history. Only Dale Inman (eight titles) has more.

  • In major American professional sports, only three teams have won more than four championships consecutively: the Boston Celtics' eight NBA titles starting with the 1958-59 season and ending in 1965-66; the New York Yankees' five World Series rings from 1949-53; and the Montreal Canadiens' five Stanley Cups from 1956-60.

Just listen to the #48 radio any given Sunday and you'll see why the Knaus-Johnson combo works. It's as if they read each other's minds. And they certainly balance each other out. Johnson has said that when he talks to Chad about what's going on with his Lowe's Chevy, it's like Chad can visualize exactly what the car is doing and what needs to be fixed.

What's more, theirs is not just an on-track bromance. Heck, these two even vacation together.

This weekend on Twitter, Jenna Fryer who covers NASCAR for the Associated Press, was soliciting nickname ideas for Jimmie Johnson.

But a nickname for Johnson alone just doesn't cut it. I maintain that a celebrity couple name is far more appropriate. How about Chimmie, Chadson, or even Jad?

After all, if the past four years are indicative of the future, we're going to be seeing these two in Victory Lane (and in print) together for a long time to come.



Monday, November 23, 2009

A Few Things We Won't Miss in the Off-Season - Admen Take Note

To a NASCAR fan there are few things more annoying than 50 single file laps in a row or a 1-hour rain delay on race day. But bad television commercials during the race might just trump all grievances.

It's bad enough that there often seems to be more ad time than race time. But when those commercials are in ill taste or just plain annoying, well it makes this fan want to turn off the TV and turn on MRN.

Below are a few of the commercials I hope die a quick and painful death in the off-season - followed by my ideas for some ads that fans just might enjoy.

The Joey Logano/Home Depot spot: At the beginning of the season, this ad wasn't bothersome in the least. It was a warm, almost cute, way for Home Depot to welcome Logano into the sport's highest eschelon - and the cameo by team owner Joe Gibbs was an added treat. At least those were my thoughts the first 500 times the commercial aired. However, by mid-season, perhaps the time for hailing Sliced Bread's entree into Cup had ended. The same tired and outdated commercial even ran during Homestead. I'm all for showing a newbie a warm welcome - but 10 months of welcome might be a little much.

Tony Stewart Old Spice Swagger commercial - I can see why this commercial seemed like a good idea at the time. To be honest, the concept isn't terrible - the idea that Old Spice Swagger can transform Stewart from a phobic, asthmatic nerd into a driver who's smooth with the ladies. But every time I hear the boy in the ad start hyperventilating at the escalator, I think "this time, the kid's gonna collapse on the set and die." It makes my skin crawl. And it's not that I'm against children in NASCAR commercials. The 2007-2008 Mike Wallace Geico spots were sheer genius. Perhaps the folks at Old Spice should take notes.

Kevin Conway/Extenze - Seriously, does NASCAR need sponsorship so badly that it's willing to take money from a company which boasts Ron Jeremy as a former pitchman? Poor Conway is all I can say. Although he doesn't claim to actually use the male enhancement product on camera, the decals on his truck leave you wondering. And somehow I doubt he is assailed by fans at every track, who just want to tell him how much Extenze has changed their lives. Some things are best left to the imagination.

Castrol Edge Think With Your Dipstick - Yes, it gets your attention. Yes, the first few times you see it you are taken aback, almost uncomfortable and not sure whether you should laugh or look away. But in the end, the Scottish sadist running around whacking men with a dipstick is just plain obnoxious.

So now that I've skewered the ads that irritated me during the 2009 season, may I suggest a few commercials that might just be a pleasure to view? (Unless of course, they're broadcast while there's action on the track).

Juan Pablo Montoya for Taco Bell - I realize there may be sponsorship conflicts with such an idea, but what a way for Juan Pablo to make the most of Bob Griese's ill-conceived and politically incorrect comment. After all, a few days after Griese's suspension, Montoya even joked on Twitter that he was indeed going to Taco Bell for lunch that day. Talk about an opportunity for Taco Bell to "think outside the marketing bun."

Jimmie Johnson for Dos Equis - Johnson may not be viewed as "the most interesting man in the world" by every NASCAR fan, but he'd be the perfect mug for this beer brand's Hemingway-esque ad campaign. With the use of facial hair alone, Johnson can look smooth and suave or rugged and tough by turns. And with lines like "he lives vicariously - through himself," and "his blood smells like cologne," this current series of ads seems written for the four-time Champ who boasts a model wife, cool demeanor and testosterone-fueled talent (compilation video below).

Danica Patrick for Pantene - Yeah, yeah, I know Patrick may or may not be joining the NASCAR boys in 2010. But if she does, she'll have lots of gender assumptions to overcome. So perhaps next season (should Danica jump series) would be a good time for Pantene to re-introduce its popular "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful," ad from the 1980s. After all, Patrick has taken lots of flack for her good looks and body-baring photo shoots. Why not capitalize on it?

Carl Edwards for P90X - What better way for a gal to spend a Sunday afternoon than watching a race peppered by the buff Edwards lifting a few hundred pounds of iron? Next to Mark Martin, Edwards is arguably the fittest man in NASCAR - so I'm thinking this commercial should give us a look at his own personal workout routine (and a look at his abs wouldn't be unwelcome).








Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rick Hendrick Misses Team's History-Making Day

Hendrick Motorsports made history at Homestead.

The #48 team clinched a record-breaking fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship. Plus, Hendrick teams snagged the top three spots in the Chase - another never-before-accomplished NASCAR feat.

Unfortunately, team owner Rick Hendrick wasn't there to see it.

Just before the race, Hendrick general manager Marshall Carlson told reporters that Hendrick had returned to North Carolina to be with his family and his niece, Alesha Gainey,who was awaiting an emergency liver transplant at a North Carolina hospital.

Gainey is the daughter of Hendrick's brother John, who was killed in the 2004 plane crash which also took the lives of Gainey's twin sisters and Rick's own son Ricky.

For a family that has seen more than its share of tragedy, the sad news of Gainey's condition seems especially hard. Twitter was lit up with messages of prayer and support for Rick Hendrick and his niece. And broadcasters on both Speed TV and ESPN/ABC aired well wishes to the team owner.

But all that still didn't make up for Hendrick's absence in Victory Lane. The post-race celebration didn't seem complete without the owner's jubilant congratulatory hugs and gracious words to the media.

Yet Hendrick's decision to miss what may well be the biggest career achievement of his life only illustrates what makes the man so respected by his employees and competitors.

To Rick Hendrick, people are more important than championships. And family is the most important of all. There is much to be admired in that.

As of this post, the news from Hendrick Motorsports is that Gainey is in surgery and all is going as planned.

We wish her and the entire Hendrick family well. God bless.

This Champ's Not So Vanilla After All

When you get down to the sugar and the shonuff, Jimmie Johnson isn't so vanilla.

In what may have been the longest day of his life, Johnson fought through his emotions, a bevy of track traffic and even a teammate's lackluster day to clinch a ground-breaking fourth Sprint Cup title.

With his on-the-pole start, it first seemed like Johnson would cruise through the race in dominating fashion, easily snagging the necessary top 25 finish. But his day would prove to be far from a walk in the park - in the early going of Homestead, Johnson had a rocky road indeed.

In early restarts, Johnson found himself farther back in traffic than he liked. And when Clint Bowyer drove too close for Johnson's comfort, JJ accused Bowyer of promising to work with him before the race only to act differently on the track. He then asked his spotter to go have a talk with the offending team. "Got an awesome car besides the #33 trying to screw with me forever," Johnson heatedly declared over the team's radio.

In reply, Chad Knaus refused to bite, managing his driver with a measure of calm that would turn the Dalai Lama pea green with envy. "I don't want to start anything," Knaus answered without a trace of anxiety. Then, with soothing level-headedness, he encouraged Johnson to be focused and methodical while throwing in a few compliments about his driver's performance at the wheel.

Talk about a lesson in people skills.

Then there was Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch who both raced the #48 hard, thus inciting a few four-letter invectives from the Hendrick champ. At one point, Kurt Busch's pit road shenanigans led Knaus to have a talk with fellow crew chief Pat Tryson.

Finally, in what may be a real-time snapshot of the past giving way to the future - Johnson let a struggling Jeff Gordon by him for a needed position, only to complain a few laps later when Gordon couldn't pull far enough away from his Lowe's Chevy. "He's pedalling as hard as he can," was the response of Johnson's spotter.

Yes it was nerve-wracking. Yes it was frustrating. But in the end, Johnson's day ended with fireworks, burnouts and a champagne-soaked leap into the history books.

And he did it all without a hint of vanilla.

Set Your DVR Now - Cup Champ All Over ESPN Monday

Jimmie Johnson may secure his record fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, or Mark Martin could win his first title and at 50 years of age become the oldest champion in the history of the series. Regardless of the outcome, the new champion will travel from Miami to Bristol on Monday morning for a day of interviews.

ESPN First Take will host the champion for an interview at 11:40 a.m. ET on ESPN2, followed by a live chat on ESPN.com at 12:30 p.m. SportsCenter will welcome the champion for a live interview at 1:10 p.m.

A live appearance on ESPNEWS at 2:10 p.m. will precede an interview on the Scott Van Pelt program on ESPN Radio at 2:25 p.m. The final live interview will be on ESPN’s Outside the Lines at 2:40 p.m.

Before departing Miami, the champion will start his day with an 8:10 a.m. phone interview on the Mike and Mike In the Morning program on ESPN Radio (simulcast on ESPN2). A recorded interview will air on the evening SportsCenter on ESPN Deportes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nationwide Saves the Best for Last

Talk about a barn burner!

The last Nationwide race of 2009 had it all - an edge-of-your-seat finish, a fender-knockin' feud, and a boatload of post-race smack.

It was a race fan's dream.

First, the finish. Even though Kyle Busch has had his lows this season - like a slew of missed opportunities to win (if you call that a low), a misguided attempt at rock stardom, and a propensity to flee the media - you've got to give the bad guy his due. Because even the most vehement KB critic will admit that when things go well for Rowdy, they go very well indeed. He scored nine NNS wins in 2009- most in dominating fashion - and he swept into Homestead in the happy position of not having to finish to clinch the title.

Like the "little girl with the curl" from the old nursery rhyme, "when Kyle is good he's very, very good and when he's bad he's awful." Fortunately for Joe Gibbs Racing, tonight Kyle was good. And he outraced Carl Edwards to prove it.

For a split second during the white flag lap, it seemed that Edwards might revive his Kansas City banzai move in a last-ditch attempt to steal the win.
However, Edwards said after the race, "I didn't have the heart to spear him in turn three." Thus, Edwards' derring-do couldn't stop the Rowdy train from rolling to the checkers and an exuberant crew in Victory Lane.

Then there's that blessed feud. Denny "pay-window" Hamlin didn't waste much time getting into Keselowski's bumper and spinning the #88. But let's be honest - Denny's payback looked more like a half-hearted attempt to save face than an angry man's shot at revenge. Keselowski's crew chief Tony Eury Sr. said over the radio, “That boy (Hamlin) will never learn. He didn't do it good enough.”

In the end, all the incident got Hamlin was a black flag from NASCAR and some props from fellow drivers. Whether fans approved the move is debatable - they may have actually been cheering Hamlin's penalty and not what led to it.

To make things even better, after the cars rolled to a stop, the smack went flying like turkey feathers on Thanksgiving. Keselowski hinted that Denny was suffering from off-track personal problems, while Denny asserted that he'd never heard so much applause as when he sent Keselowski on his unexpected ride.

All in all, Homestead was chock full of such goodness. There were more storylines than you could shake a stick at. More drama than Desperate Housewives. And more reasons to believe that the Nationwide Series is must-see TV.


Now if I can just hold out 'til Daytona...



Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Former Champ's Take on Jimmie J

Former Sprint Cup champ and current ESPN personality Dale Jarrett answered a couple questions about Jimmie Johnson and his almost certain step into motorsports immortality Sunday.

Jarrett, who will be in the booth for ABC’s live coverage of Homestead, was quick to give Jimmie his due in the talent department. And, I realize I may be in the minority, but I wholeheartedly agree with ol' DJ. Jimmie is the most under-rated and under-appreciated overachiever in the sport (perhaps in sports period). The dude is getting ready to accomplish a feat of which no other driver before him can boast - and instead of cheering him on as he drives into the history books, many fans could care less. More's the pity.

For Jarrett's astute comments, read on:

What does Jimmie Johnson have to do to win the championship?

"I think you have to focus in a number of different ways and break the weekend down. On Friday before qualifying, I want to make my car as fast as possible and see if we can start up front. That allows me to run the race I want to run. Obviously practice on Saturday, making the car fast once again will allow me to run the race that I want to, and I think that’s exactly what Jimmie Johnson is going to do. He’s going to try to lead some laps early if he can do that, get those bonus points, and then he’s just going to settle into a good position. I think what we will see, on the double-file restarts, Jimmie be extremely careful around traffic until things get single-file, and then he can pass cars one at a time; it’s much safer that way. I think we’ll see their normal 13-second pit stops become 13 ½, 14 seconds which will probably lose them a couple of spots in the pits, but they want to make sure they don’t have any problems with loose wheels or anything like that. And then he can run his race, finish somewhere in the top 10, maybe even 15, that’ll bring him another championship home."

What about the level of appreciation that Jimmie Johnson gets from the public?

"From the public it’s a little suspect. I think in the garage area everybody appreciates what Jimmie Johnson the driver has done. I think the public perception of him is that he’s with the best organization in the sport, he has the best race cars, he has the best engines, he has the best crew chief in the business, so therefore why shouldn’t he win? But that’s not exactly the case. I would have to disagree with everyone. Someone has to get in there and make all the right moves, push the buttons, do the things that you need to do on the racetrack. Jimmie Johnson does all of those things. He’s a tremendous talent behind the wheel, has a great head on his shoulders, and that makes for a perfect champion."

Photo info: Dale Jarrett talks to Jimmie Johnson (from Life magazine)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting

Brad Keselowski has been chastised by the boys in the hauler.

Denny Hamlin is mad and loaded for bear.

And Saturday, viewers of the Nationwide Series race will get to see if these two will turn what might otherwise have been a foregone conclusion of a championship into the most entertaining spectacle of the weekend.

NASCAR marketers could not have scripted a better sendoff to the season.

If Hamlin backs up his talk (and his tweets), he'll move the feud from Twitter to the track as he's "first to the pay window" to collect on the debt that Keselowski owes him for those Phoenix dustups. Besides, as Hamlin told reporters "Let me tell you something, the one thing he ain't got is more talent than me."

Whether that boast is true or not remains to be seen. But one thing Keselowski isn't is running scared. After all Denny's mouthing off during the week, Keselowski arguably has a score to settle of his own. And no matter what kind of scolding Brian France and co. put on Keselowski behind closed doors, something tells me Brad isn't gonna sit there and let Denny retaliate all over his bumper.

So let's get ready to rumble - because at Homestead, the fight moves from Twitter to the track. And if either driver's day ends with a wreck, there just might be a Saturday night fight in the pits.

Oh yeah, this is gonna be good.

Somebody Dial 811

Kevin Harvick wants you to call before you dig.

Okay, not to call him exactly, but to dial three little numbers - 811. And to that end, the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil car will feature a new logo on the deck lid at Homestead that will read, “811 Know what’s below. Call before you dig.”

The Richard Childress Racing teams are working with Shell and the Common Ground Alliance to educate fans about the importance of calling 811 before doing any digging or excavation activity. A quick and easy call to 811 helps to keep you from unintentionally hitting underground pipelines, infrastructure and utility lines, which can put the community and environment at risk.

“Calling 811 is like having a spotter when you’re digging,” said Richard Childress, President and CEO, Richard Childress Racing. “The spotter’s job is it to let the driver know whether or not it is clear before he makes a move on the track helping him to avoid a collision that would put everyone in jeopardy. 811 helps keep neighborhoods safe by ensuring people know what’s below and that they’re clear to break ground.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

David Ragan Makes A Special Delivery

For three Daytona Beach-area race fans, a surprise knock on the door from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Ragan and Daytona International Speedway President Robin Braig put their coveted tickets for the 52nd annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 14 in their hands.

In a UPS package car, Ragan, driver of the No. 6 UPS Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, visited the houses of longtime Daytona ticket holders Mike Bruno Jr., Ben Allen and Jim Barron on Tuesday with their tickets to “The Great American Race.”

In addition, both Ragan and Braig delivered goodie bags to all three ticket holders.

The special Daytona 500 ticket event with Ragan celebrates the delivery of 52nd annual Daytona 500 tickets around the world.

“It’s cool to see the fans that have been supporting NASCAR and the Daytona 500 for a number of years get excited,” Ragan said. “It’s November and they are getting excited about a race that’s in February. That shows what a big deal the Daytona 500 is. For UPS to partner and get the tickets to their rightful owners here in November, (the fans) should have something good to think about for a couple of months leading up to the 500.”

Ragan, who rode with UPS package car driver Robert Clopton, had never delivered tickets to race fans’ houses. He said the event was an eye opener.

“This is something that we will think about as we’re driving around the race track on that pace lap,” Ragan said. “You see 150,000 people up there and you wonder how each one of them got their tickets. It’s a good thing that they are pumping this race up this early. A lot of people are talking about the (Daytona) 500. It’s our biggest race of the year. It’s the first one. It’s a tone setter for the rest of the season.”

For Bruno, a Ragan fan, the delivery of his Sprint Tower seats for the Daytona 500 will be something that he always will remember.

“This is unbelievable. This sport is definitely fan friendly,” said a stunned Bruno. “We definitely look forward to it every year. My father-in-law and I have been going since Sterling Marlin won his second (Daytona) 500. It’s the highlight of the year for us – February and July.”

Check out the video here: David’s Blog: Special Delivery in Daytona UPS Racing

Monday, November 16, 2009

So Why Do ESPN Pit Reporters Wear Firesuits Anyway?

They may look a little goofy, but there's a good reason those ESPN pit reporters wear firesuits - and it's not because they're out to make a NASCAR fashion statement.

The reason behind their race day attire dates all the way back to the late 1980s and involves Dr. Jerry Punch, the King and a fiery mishap on pit road.

On March 19, 1989, Punch, who is now ESPN’s lap-by-lap announcer for NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage, was working as a pit reporter at Atlanta Motor Speedway. As was standard ABC practice at the time, Punch was wearing a blue blazer and tie.

As Richard Petty’s car was being serviced during a routine pit stop, the car, which was racing with a broken header pipe, backfired, igniting fuel that spilled from the fuel filler can during the refueling process. The fire quickly spread.

“Suddenly you could hear this big ‘whumph’ and you could feel the air just being sucked to the fire as it erupted,” said Punch, who was about 10 feet away when the fire started. “The gas man’s wearing an apron, and it’s on fire – he drops the gas can on the ground and there’s fire all over the can and on the ground. He realized it could ignite the whole car, so he then picks it up and throws it over the wall, and then there’s gas behind the wall and it’s on fire where we are standing. Then the gas man leaps back over pit wall.”

Punch, an emergency room physician, and his pit spotter, Nelson Crozier, quickly sprung into action. Crozier grabbed a rubber mat from the Petty pits and he and Punch wrapped the Petty team gas man in the mat to extinguish the fire. Meanwhile, quick thinking by Petty’s crew chief, Dale Inman, led to Petty speeding away from the pits, allowing the car to be sprayed and the fire on the car to go out. Fireman and crew members from other teams quickly grabbed extinguishers and took care of the rest of the fire.

Punch attended to the injured crew member until paramedics arrived, then attempted to do a report for the telecast. But he quickly learned that the blaze had impacted him as well.

“As I’m doing a report on camera, my moustache that I had back then is all singed, the hair on the back of my hand is gone, my microphone windscreen is melted – it’s just dripping down across the microphone,” he said. “And the sleeve on my polyester blazer is all basically melted into a goo – and all you can see is these brass buttons hanging there.

“They had had high cameras on all of this and I don’t realize as I’m giving a report that people in the (TV) truck and people watching back at ABC in New York are just aghast that I was in the middle of this. Our coordinating producer of motorsports at ABC was Geoff Mason – Geoff was watching back in NY and he immediately called the truck and asked why in the world are our people not in fire-protective gear? He made the call right then that we’d wear it from then on.”

Punch said that not only did the incident lead to safety gear for ESPN and ABC’s reporters, it also led to improvements in pit stop safety.

“It’s not that he (the gas man) was sloppy; that was the nature of pit stops back then,” he said. “You’d always see gas trickling down the side of the car and the car would leave and there’d always be a puddle of gas on the ground behind the car. They’d just put a little speedy dry on it and sweep it up.

“After that, it became much more sophisticated with really, really tight dry breaks,” he said. “It made it harder to gas the car. That led to a lot of safety innovations.

“But boy we dodged a big bullet there on pit road that day and so did I,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much so until later. And to this day, I’m so appreciative of Geoff Mason just stepping in and absolutely making a great call for safety first.”

Photo info: Wearing her firesuit, Jamie Little interviews Ryan Newman at Talladega

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Talk About a Series of Unfortunate Events

How's this for a series of unfortunate events?

Your pit crew wrecks on the way to the track. You blow an oil line during the race. You get sideways, causing a multi-car pileup. And, to top it all off, one of your buddies insults you for all the racing world to hear.

Such was Phoenix for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is finally nearing the end of a season that might well have been scripted by Lemony Snicket.

In a truly bad beginning, the vehicle in which six #88 crew members were riding was T-boned before the race near PIR. Thankfully, all passengers were unharmed. And all resumed their over-the-wall duties at racetime.

However, the situation worsened as Junior lost it near the apron and went for a slide which collected eight of his closest friends - Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and more - in a pretty bad mashup.

But what really made the gloom loom was the post-crash chatter of a rather perturbed Tony Stewart. Smoke, who suffered some bent metal in the incident, got a little bent-out-of-shape with his supposed buddy. "No-talent SOB" were his exact words.

Sigh.

If I were Junior, I just might hide in my hauler at Homestead. After, all what are the odds that The End of this season would involve a good day at the track?

One of the race commentators opined that with the type of season the #88 team has been having, if something were to fall out of the sky, it would likely land right on Junior's car.

Perhaps Junior Nation could adopt the below Don Williams' classic as a talisman against another luckless NASCAR outing. Misfortune can't last forever, can it?