Sunday, March 29, 2009

Says Gordon: "There's No Comparison" Between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt

Jeff Gordon was asked Friday how he would compare Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Kyle Busch. His response? "There's no comparison."

But when pressed to explain, Gordon did draw certain distinctions between the two drivers. Namely that Earhardt was always a man in control while Busch is a little more wild and untamed.

“Well I didn’t race against Earnhardt when he was in his early twenties. Maybe they would have been the same then. Kyle is just this incredible talent. He can put a car on the edge like nobody I’ve ever seen. The difference is that up until maybe this year, I really see him maturing so much over the last couple of years. But up until this year, he was a guy that he would put it so far on the edge that he was making mistakes or would take it too far."

And taking it too far, is something Gordon says that Earnhardt would never do. "Earnhardt was rarely on the edge to be honest with you. But he was more of a bully. He’s a guy that you never count him out. He was just tough as nails. He’d be a lap down and come back and be battling for the win at the end of the race and was just a totally different type of racer and how he approached it, than Kyle. As far as results, I guess you could maybe compare results because they both really get the results. But to me, how Kyle goes about getting the results is still a little bit young and like this guy trying to tame a bull, you know. And when he first started, he was riding that bull in a china shop. But now he’s learned how to ride it in a rodeo arena, you know (laughs) and control it, and maybe back off just a little bit when he needs to and get it to the end and have the results."

Although Gordon claims that there's only one man to beat at Martinsville this weekend--teammmate Jimmie Johnson--he does admit to always keeping one eye on Kyle Busch.

“I’m way more nervous about Kyle this year than I ever have been. I think he really needed to go through last year, his first year at Gibbs, and learn some of the pitfalls and learn how to just continue to mature. I think this year, he could be way more of a threat for the championship when this season is all over.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Elliott Sadler Ready to Cheer on Big Bro.

Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling will partner with longtime TNA personality and NASCAR analyst Hermie Sadler as the primary sponsor for Sadler’s entry in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at 2 p.m. Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

And little brother Elliott, and the whole Sadler clan, will be on-hand at the paper clip to cheer Hermie on. Says the younger Sadler, "I spent a lot of time when I was younger going to the racetrack to watch my brother race and I get excited when we get a chance to see him back behind the wheel ... I just hope that when the race ends on Sunday that I can say both my brother and I visited victory lane on the same weekend. If not, I want to finish higher than Hermie does. We still have a little sibling rivalry thing going on sometimes."

Hermie Sadler, the 1993 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year and current analyst for SPEED, will enter the first of three scheduled races he plans to drive this year. He previously drove the TNA Wrestling truck at Martinsville in 2008.

“I am really looking forward to getting back on the track this weekend at Martinsville. There’s no pressure as far as points this time, just to go out there, race hard, and hopefully get a good finish,” Hermie said.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cowboy Harvick Goes West

While filming his new Shell commercial for Nitrogen Enriched, Kevin Harvick also took part in a fun, two-minute parody of an old-school, gun-slinging Western.

Personally, I think the Western theme is pretty apropos for Harvick. He's a NASCAR cowboy for sure, both on and off the track. The only difference is that instead of a wild mustang or a team of stallions, Harvick's horsepower comes from a sweet and racy Chevy Impala.

Cowboy Harvick will be talking about his new commercial and airing some behind-the-scenes footage on Speed TV's NASCAR RaceDay from 12:30 to 12:45 p.m. Sunday, prior to the green flag at Martinsville.

In the meantime, check out the spoof here:


video

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kyle Busch Needs to Get Over His Junior Fixation

Kyle Busch talks about Dale Earnhardt Junior so much, that I sometimes wonder if he doesn't have a bit of a man crush.

Of course it's more likely that Busch has yet to get over the wound Rick Hendrick inflicted when he was ousted in favor of NASCAR's most popular driver. But whatever the reason for Busch's Junior fixation, it's clear that Junior is always on Kyle's mind.

From Busch's Junior-directed comments after winning the race at Bristol, to his condescending radio chatter as Dale Jr scored a lucky dog, Busch spends a lot of time and energy on kicking Junior when he's down.

Let's face it, Junior hasn't been much of a threat to Busch this year (or last) on the track. So Rowdy's Junior obsession has got to be personal. And frankly, it's getting annoying.

No matter what Kyle says, it's clear he's painfully aware of Junior's popularity with the fans and more painfully aware that he doesn't garner the same adulation. To Busch, winning is the only thing that matters. But to lots of race fans, having a halfway decent personality matters more.

The best way to keep Busch quiet is for the #88 car to beat the #18 to the checkered flag a few times over. And if that doesn't work, I have another theory as to why Kyle talks so much about Dale Jr--he must be a closet member of Junior Nation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bristol Winners and Losers

There were more winners at Bristol this weekend than Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, and more losers than Greg Biffle and Joey Logano.

Below are my picks for the folks who won out this race weekend, and those who can claim the title of Bristol's biggest losers.

Winners:
Mark Martin and Ryan Newman finally had a little luck and ended on a high note, putting them well inside the top 35 points standings. The champ, Jimmie Johnson, managed to sneak into the chase (was there ever any doubt?). And Marcos Ambrose put together an impressive race, finishing in the top ten for Michael Waltrip racing.

Losers:
Aric Almirola and Paul Menard still have to qualify on time at Martinsville. And poor Travis Kvapil desperately needed a good race, but he ended 39th in owners points, in addition to losing his ride (hopefully temporarily) to boot.

Winners: Ned Jarrett was a welcome familiar face in the broadcast group, joining his boy Dale and former colleague Dr. Jerry Punch as they called the Saturday night Legends race. And don't forget old-timer L.D. Ottinger who ran the wheels off his race car on Saturday night.

Losers: Digger--did I miss something, or was there no Digger episode this week? And Mr. Excitement Jimmy Spencer...he ran well during the Legends race, but he sure lived up to his nickname during practice when he wrecked fan favorite Junior Johnson.

Winners: The fans who attended Saturday's races. Both the Nationwide and Legends races were sheer entertainment a darn good time.

Losers: I hate to call fans losers, but the fans who attended Sunday's race witnessed one of the most boring Bristol races ever. Here's hoping the August race will be better!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kyle Busch Steals Bristol Thunder

At a track known for some of the most exciting racing on the circuit, the dominant Kyle Busch stole the thunder right out of the valley, in what may have been one of the dullest Bristol races in recent memory.

Though Busch engaged in a few battles for position with champ Jimmie Johnson and teammate Denny Hamlin, he eventually pulled away from the pack and never looked back. Throughout the race, I found myself flipping to CBS to catch the latest college hoops scores, as the on-court battles were far more entertaining than what was taking place at the world's fastest half mile.

Not that there wasn't some bumping and banging back in the field. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick tangled early on, ending Kurt's hopes of winning two in a row and also Harvick's dream of a Bristol sweep. And Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray got into a racing altercation, ending with McMurray spinning into the fence. But the incidents were few and far between and the drama was practically non-existent.

Hopefully, the rest of the teams will step up their game and figure out how to compete with Kyle Busch in the top three NASCAR series. Because if Busch continues to be such a dominant force weekend after weekend, I may have to start watching Formula One.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

L.D. Ottinger -- Mr. Saturday Night Special

Saturday night sure was special. Watching the legends of NASCAR take to the track after the Nationwide race made for some out-and-out fun.

From Jimmy Spencer accidentally wrecking Junior Johnson during practice to Harry Gant's hood peeling off while he was fighting for position, there was plenty of on-track action to keep things entertaining.

But the man who proved he's still got what it takes to get racy at Bristol was retired Busch Series driver L.D. Ottinger. Before the green flag waved, the seventy-year-old Ottinger said he hadn't been in a race car in more than 10 years. But you'd never know it.

Ottinger started in next-to-last place, but he managed to maneuver his car to a third place finish. And if the race had been 10 or so laps longer, he probably could have given Rusty Wallace and the dominant Sterling Marlin a run for their money.

"This is the second time I've been in a car in 15 years," Ottinger said. "I'd like to see this again. This was great."

I don't know who had more fun, the drivers or the fans. And this fan agrees with Ottinger -- I hope the folks at Bristol do this again in 2010.

Rookie Gaughan Holds Off Busch for the Pole

Brendan Gaughan held off Kyle Busch to snag his first pole since 2003 and his first Nationwide pole ever. In his first time out at the Bristol Motor Speedway, the rookie put together two impressive laps to gain the coveted starting spot.

At the end of his run, Gaughan seemed to know he had the time to beat, even though some tough competitors were still to come. He punctuated his qualifying run with a "Woo Hoo!" and a big fist pump before getting out of his Chevy Impala.

Driving for Rusty Wallace Racing, Gaughan is currently fourth in Nationwide Series points. He'll be leading Carl Edwards, Jason Keller, Kyle Busch and Kelly Bires to the green flag at 2:30 this afternoon.

The group that failed to make today's race include Stanton Barrett, Kertus Davis, Brian Keselowski, Mark Green, Mike Harmon, Dennis Setzer and Brad Teague.

Way to go Brendan!

Friday, March 20, 2009

There's Something Fishy About Biffle's Injured Ribs

Matt Kenseth will take over Greg Biffle's ride in the Nationwide race Saturday due to an off-track incident that left The Biff with some bruised ribs.

When asked how he managed to injure himself so severely during the first off week of the season, Biffle offered a somewhat dubious explanation:

"I wish I had a better story, I really do. Me and a couple buddies went out fishing on Tuesday night and we were just messing around in our cove right there and we came back to the dock. I jumped over to the dock and the boat was kind of drifting out a little bit. One guy had the front corner and I said, ‘I’m gonna jump back over and grab a rope and then jump back again.’ It was about 11:30, so there was a little bit of dew in the air and the platform must have been wet, and when I jumped over it just shot my foot out from underneath me. It turned me around backwards and put me right on my side and on my back on the edge of the boat. It’s not a normal boat. It’s got a sharp edge on it because it has a platform on the front, 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 gonna land on your ribs with all your weight, plus you jumped on top of it, so it was a stupid deal. If I had to do it over, I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Everybody’s jumped onto a boat before, but I just lost my footing."

If you believe The Biff slipped on that dock simply because there was "dew in the air" I've got a bridge to nowhere I'd like to sell you. More likely, there was a little of that old "mountain dew" in his system.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is Kyle Busch Rowdy-ing On Down?

Are we witnessing the emergence of a kinder, gentler Kyle Busch?

Sure, he was his arrogant, hot-headed self at Daytona, but ever since the "wreck that will live in infamy," Rowdy's on-camera remarks have been disappointingly blase. Last year, you could always count on Wild Thing to fire off a controversial answer to almost every on-camera question. But now, he's saying surprising things like he has learned a lot since last year and is trying to take "the bad days easier."

Good lord, the Kyle Bush fans either love or hate doesn't take bad days--period. I want him throwing a helmet and shaking his fist at the Jumbotron. Heaven forbid he turn into an uber-talented gentlemen driver.

Unfortunately, the pre-race press release from Busch's team leads one to believe that some enterprising brand manager at Joe Gibbs is trying to give bad boy Busch a gradual image makeover.

Take, for instance, Busch's take on losing races this year: "Losing isn't a lot of fun, but you've got to deal with it better. You've got to learn that every day isn't your day, but you can make the most of losing, sometimes, and try to turn it around and win the next week. It's kind of a double-edged sword because you want to win badly, but it's just trying to take those days where you have a third-place racecar and bring it home in third place."

And then there's Busch's ruminations on what he has learned since 2008: "I think to probably take the bad days a little easier. But I hate bad days. I'm still not going to take them as easy as I should. It's unfortunate we weren't able to capitalize on our great season in the Chase (in 2008), and run in the Chase the way we wanted to. But I feel like we've been able to not let the bad days haunt us and maybe also turn some days that should be bad into something better than we should have had. We didn't let Daytona haunt us. We went to California, ran a smart race and finished third. We went to Las Vegas and didn't have the best car, but we ran a smart race and ended up winning. We weren't the best car at either place, but we were the best car in Daytona, and I felt like we missed out there. You're never owed one in this sport. You've always got to take what you can get. Unfortunately, some days are bad days and you just put it behind you and look forward to the next week."

I'm all for racing smart. But come on Kyle, don't lose your talent for drama. NASCAR needs you as its resident villain--now more than ever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can Harvick Pull Off Another Bristol Sweep?

Kevin Harvick will be one busy guy this weekend at Bristol. On Friday night, he's signing autographs at the Speedway's Food City Family Race Night. Then, he's hitting the Food City stage to play a little "Rock Band" with wife Delana, fellow driver Tony Stewart and a few lucky race fans.

But Harvick will be even busier on the track, as he tries to pull out two wins in a row. Harvick's got double duty this weekend, racing in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. And he's got some good memories of Bristol to spur him on to Victory Lane. In 2005, Bristol was the place where Harvick scored his first NASCAR sweep -- winning both the Nationwide and Cup races.

Will this weekend be a case of motorsports deja vu?

At the very least, Harvick seems primed for a Cup points win this year. He kicked off the season in impressive style with his mad dash to the front at the Bud Shootout. Plus, he's already had two top five finishes this year -- 2nd at Daytona and 4th at Atlanta. Add to that a 2nd place spot at Bristol in 2008, and Harvick could have what it takes to tame the world's fastest half mile, yet again.

And things just might go his way on Saturday as well. Harvick earned a 2nd place finish in Fontana and has been sporting pretty fast cars in every race. And it's pretty clear that, as a Nationwide driver-owner, Harvick would like nothing better than to drive his own No. 33 Chevrolet Impala to a win.

All eyes might be focused on the Busch brothers this week, but watch out for busy guy Harvick. He might just go two-for-two at Bristol--again.

Wet Your Whistle at Bristol With Some "Thunder Valley Lightning"

NASCAR legend Junior Johnson will put his own potent potable up for sale at Bristol this weekend. Junior Johnson Brand Premium Sweet Iced Tea and Lemonade will be used in the new signature drink from Bristol Motor Speedway – “Thunder Valley Lightning”. As previously announced, Bristol Motor Speedway has partnered with Piedmont Distillers, Inc. and its Junior Johnson Midnight Moon moonshine to introduce the new signature drink.

For the spring race weekend, race fans will be able to purchase the signature drink in a 24-ounce collectible cup at 20 drink stations located throughout Bristol Motor Speedway’s concourse area inside the track and at exterior locations surrounding the track. A portion of the proceeds from each sale will go to a non-profit organization.

After retiring from driving, Junior Johnson became the third most successful team owner in NASCAR history. His drivers won 139 races and six series championships. Cale Yarborough won three straight titles from 1776-1778 and Darrell Waltrip won the three other championships in 1981, ’82 and ’85.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Clint Bowyer on "The Biggest Loser"

No one would dare call Clint Bowyer a loser, but he'll be appearing on NBC’s hit show “The Biggest Loser” on Tuesday, March 24 (9-11 pm following President Obama’s speech). During an intense challenge, Bowyer will witness just how strong the show contestants are.

“Being involved with ‘The Biggest Loser’ was a real eye-opener,” said Bowyer, who is the first NASCAR driver to appear on the show. “The show is all about winning. It was amazing to see how hard everyone works and the sacrifices they make. The trainers really get the contestants to believe in themselves and commit to improving their lives for years to come. I can’t wait to see the show on Tuesday night.”

"Clint is the real deal,” said Mark Koops, Executive Producer of the “Biggest Loser.” “Any racer could have come to the show, but Clint’s ‘regular guy’ story is really something special. He was given an opportunity and made the most of it. He worked hard to get to where he is today. It’s really quite an inspirational story.”

NASCAR -- Not Just for Southerners Anymore

During a week in which the stars of NASCAR head to a quintessential Southern race track, allow me a geographical observation. There must be something in the water beyond the Mississippi, River, because NASCAR talent sure does seem to be headed west.

And it's not just me. The numbers bear it out. Compared to just 10 years ago, fewer and fewer top drivers hail from the home of the Confederacy.

At the end of the 1998 season, eight of the top 12 Winston Cup drivers were from states below the Mason-Dixon. Guys like Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte were at the top of the heap. And NASCAR talent was still predominantly Southern. Of course there were a few interlopers -- like Rusty Wallace and Geoffrey Bodine -- but by and large, the top drivers were Southern-born and Southern-bred.

Ten years later, the geographical terrain of NASCAR talent has seen a seismic shift. Instead of Southern drivers ruling the points standings, the guys from California, Missouri and Washington state are snagging the top spots. In 2008, only three of the top 12 drivers were from the South. And, so far in 2009, only two of those in the top 12 are Southerners by birth.

And the talent isn't just diverse on the track. More and more folks in the garage are hailing from non-rebel states as well--seven of the current top 12 crew chiefs hail from up North or out West.

It's ironic that a sport viewed by many Americans as simply catering to its good ol' boy fan base is actually pretty diverse when it comes down to who's succeeding at the highest level. And that's good for NASCAR. The more diversity the sport can get within its ranks, the more new fans will be drawn to the races.

Now if we can just get a chick in the driver's seat ...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Junior Fans Hold Out Hope for a Win

Do race fans think Dale Earnhardt Jr will win a Sprint Cup race in 2009? Well, according to the results of last week's decidedly unscientific NASCAR-ista poll, the answer to that question is "yes and yes".

Of the 154 readers who responded, almost half (46%) have "no doubt" that Dale Jr will take the No. 88 car to Victory Lane this year. Thirty percent said "with a little luck" he'll take the checkered flag. And 24 percent say all bets are off -- this won't be Junior's year.

In other Junior-related news, JR Motorsports announced today that time in JRM's No. 5 Nationwide car will be split between Dale Jr, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Scott Wimmer.

Junior plans to take the wheel at Texas in April, Talladega in April, Charlotte in May, Daytona in July and Atlanta in September. Martin will drive at Richmond in May. Stewart takes the helm at Charlotte in October. Newman plans to run at Dover in May, Chicago in July, Michigan in August and Kansas in October and Wimmer will race at Darlington in May, Milwaukee in June, Indianapolis in July, Iowa in August, Bristol in August and Richmond in September.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Methinks I See a Theme Emerging...

With the naming of former pro wrestler Ric Flair as grand marshall and the promoting of this year's All-Star race with kitschy posters (like the one on your left), I'm sensing the folks at Lowe's Motor Speedway will be playing up a certain theme during the event on May 16.

Speedway officials have already announced that there will be changes to the race format itself. But, given Lowe's history of over-the-top promotions (remember the re-enactment of the Grenada invasion?) I wouldn't be surprised if they go all out with the whole slugfest motif.

Picture this: the infield is obscured in darkness, until a few rotating spotlights illuminate an empty ring. Out of the silence, the booming voice of the announcer begins driver introductions. Then, as each driver is introduced, he bounds into the ring like a prize fighter wearing a satin cape, boxing trunks and even a big gold belt. Or, maybe the this year's trophy will actually be a championship belt for the winning driver.

I foresee pre-race trash talking, illegal holds and maybe even some helmet throwing. But if the night turns into an all-out smackdown, my money is on Kevin "Happy" Harvick.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

NASCAR in Hollywood -- A Trend That Could Be Lucrative

Now that Jeff Burton is appearing in soap operas and Michael Waltrip is trying his hand at situation comedy, why not go all out? The stars of NASCAR could begin a lucrative new entertainment trend by following suit. Besides, the drivers are already old hands at delivering lines on camera. Why not parlay that experience into some off-season fun for the masses? It would make the diehards happy and it just might bring new fans into the sport.

With that in mind, here are my picks for what NASCAR personalities should star in which shows. Feel free to offer your own suggestions:

Tony Stewart on "Celebrity Apprentice": Much like The Donald, Stewart has an intimidating personality, obvious business acumen, and he doesn't suffer fools. And now that Stewart is the proud owner of a Cup team, he could be a very smart casting call for the next installment of Trump's hit "reality" show. Imagine what drama would ensue should a tire blow during Tony's trip to the board room.

Carl Edwards on "Survivor": The guy is super-fit, downright charming and clearly competitive. He'd be a shoe-in to win all the physical challenges, and socially savvy enough to make advantageous alliances when necessary. Besides, who wouldn't want to see him run shirtless down some exotic beach?

Kurt and Kyle Busch on "The Amazing Race": They're brothers. They're rivals. And between them, they've got enough attitude to make for some darn good television. With only each other to lean on, they're the perfect pair to engage in a dramatic race around the world.

Jimmie Johnson on "Dancing With the Stars": I can see him now ... all dressed up in a tux and tails doing an elegant foxtrot with a bedazzled partner. Johnson's got the looks, self-possession and style to be a serious contender for that glittering disco ball trophy. Besides, if Jimmie is too busy, Darrell Waltrip could always sub with a ballroom version of the "Ickey Shuffle".

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on "The Office": Although casting him for "The Bachelor" seems the more obvious choice, that might be too much of an invasion of privacy for ol' Junebug. But I've heard that "The Office" is one of Junior's favorite shows. Perhaps he could play the new Dunder Mifflin temp and Michael Scott's whipping boy for an episode or two.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Michael Waltrip Goes Hollywood

It's not really an off weekend for Michael Waltrip. He's in Hollywood shooting an episode of the NBC sitcom, "My Name Is Earl."

“In my opinion, My Name is Earl is an instant classic,” said Waltrip, who is currently 16th in the NASCAR championship points standings. “I am proud to be a part of this show as it always tells a great story about Earl’s need to do good things for people. How he gets to the resolution is absolutely hilarious.”

Waltrip’s opportunity to be on the show came shortly after the airing of an Auto Club Speedway commercial he appeared in with actor Greg Germann. The speedway’s President Gillian Zucker, who has many connections in the entertainment industry, recommended using Waltrip to her friend, Greg Garcia, the creator and executive producer of My Name is Earl.

“This experience is going to be a lot of fun for me,” Waltrip continued. “I play myself and I help Earl and his brother Randy get out of a big jam.”

Waltrip, who's known for his goofy personality and self-deprecating ads, just might be a perfect fit for prime time comedy. He's already said that if this year doesn't go well on the track, he'll quit driving. Maybe a new career is in his future?

The episode is scheduled to air Thursday, April 30 at 8 p.m. – which happens to be Waltrip’s 46th birthday.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cale Yarborough Rides Again

Cale Yarborough has been added to the lineup of stars for the Scotts “Saturday Night Special” at Bristol Motor Speedway, Mar. 21.

Darrell Waltrip, Bristol’s all-time winner with 12, has had to pull out of the race because of scheduling conflicts. “It seems crazy, but I am busier now than I was when I was a driver,” Waltrip said. “I have some commitments to Fox Sports that have come up since we began talking with the folks at Bristol about this race. "I was looking forward to getting out there with some of those guys again; and some of them for the first time. After years with Junior Johnson as my boss, I was excited about rubbing fenders with him. But, sometimes things are unavoidable.”

A $100,000 purse, to be paid to the charity of choice by each driver, will be up for grabs. Competing in late model stock cars, $25,000 will be donated to the charity of choice of the winning team, as well as taking home that big Bristol trophy. The second-place team will have $10,000 given to the charity of its choice, and $5,000 will go to the designated charity of the other entrants.

Other drivers expected to compete are Harry Gant, David Green, Jack Ingram, Junior Johnson, Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin, L.D. Ottinger, Phil Parsons, David Pearson, Jimmy Spencer, and Rusty Wallace.

The Saturday Night Special will take place after the completion of the Scotts Turf Builder 300 Nationwide Series race. Tickets, which include all three races, start at $45 and are available at bristoltix.com. The race is scheduled to air on ESPN2 from 6 to 7 p.m., March 21.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sometimes It's Just Plain Hard Being a Dale Jr. Fan

I'm not a card-carrying member of Junior Nation, but I am a fan of the #88 team. And so far, this fan has been more than a bit frustrated.

I'm sure fellow Junior supporters can sympathize with me. Every race you hold your breath, hoping against hope that this is the day Junebug will take that #88 car to Victory Lane. He gets two laps down and you run through all the possibilities in your head: "If Junior can just get two lucky dogs and if the first four cars run out of fuel before the finish then maybe, just maybe..."

But as every "if" becomes an "if only," you begin to wonder if a winning season just isn't the cards. Sometimes it seems as if the proverbial deck--along with valve trains, pit road and caution flags--are all stacked against him.

Listening to Junior's radio during Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, it seemed like the #88 team was going to communicate well, make the necessary adjustments and get their guy up to the front (jokes about whacking teammates with a hammer aside).

After all, Junior was making good time and passing the field early on. But as lap after lap went by and he couldn't get higher than 11th spot, it become pretty clear that his car just wasn't fast enough. And that's the way it's been for a while. No matter how promising he starts a race, the team just can't get it together at the finish. And that's especially frustrating when his teammates are racing well and running better.

We've given it a year. But now I think it's time that somebody at Hendrick Motorsports figures out what the problem is and make the tough changes if necessary.

Until then, this frustrated fan will still be rooting for #88. And I'll be keeping hope alive that Bristol will be better.

Jimmie Johnson Foundation and PIR Team Up Again

Phoenix International Raceway and the Jimmie Johnson Foundation join forces in 2009 for the April 16 NASCAR Camping World Series West race at PIR, which will again be named the Jimmie Johnson Foundation 150.

The Jimmie Johnson Foundation 150 is scheduled as the first of three races during the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500™ event weekend, with the green flag dropping under PIR's bright lights at 7:15 p.m. on April 16.

This year's event will feature more than just a 150-mile race. A special "Night of Champions" party featuring Johnson will take place in PIR's Octane on the evening of the Jimmie Johnson Foundation 150. Proceeds from special racing items and memorabilia auctioned at the event will benefit the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and its partner programs, all with the intent of giving back to children in the Phoenix area and beyond. Visit the Jimmie Johnson Foundation web site for more info.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Kurt Busch May Have Dominated, But Truex Was The Man

When it comes to manning up for a race, you can't get much tougher than Martin Truex, Jr.

In a day totally dominated by "The Blue Deuce" of Kurt Busch, Truex finished in the #10 spot.

It's a wonder he could even race at all. Just the day before, Truex was taken by ambulance to a Griffin, Ga. emergency room after suffering from what were described as "bouts of intense pain". The diagnosis? Kidney stones.

Truex was cleared to race on Sunday, and race he did.

Competitive for all of The Kobalt Tools 500, Truex improved his 23rd starting spot to end the race in the top ten. Give credit to prescription painkillers if you must, but tough-as-nails Truex earned his best finish of the year so far.

Unfortunately, physical ailments weren't the only thing the driver had to suffer this weekend. The state of his kidney stones made for many a pun during pre-race coverage, including the particularly painful "Martin Makes the Pass."

At least the folks at FOX didn't show us an X-ray.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Says Jimmie Johnson: Don't Blame the Beard

Everyone is so surprised by Jimmie Johnson's slow start in 2009, that even the media are coming up with any excuse for why Jimmie has failed to dominate early on.

During today's press conference in Atlanta, one reporter asked the reigning champ if maybe his new beard was to blame for his team's misfortunes.

Johnson's answer? "No. I’ve heard a variety of opinions from the fans. Some love it and some hate it," Johnson said. "But again, if mama likes it, it’s staying. I disagree on the unlucky thing. We’ve created most of the issues we’ve had. It hasn’t been the beard.”

Thank goodness. Don't lose the beard Jimmie. Mama likes it.

Tale of Two Paint Schemes

No, you're not seeing double. Teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will be driving very similar paint schemes for tomorrow's Kobalt Tools 500.

During final Cup practice this afternoon, it wasn't always easy to tell who was who. Especially for the fans at the track. The cars power by in a blur when you're at the race and sometimes it's all you can do to figure out a sponsor logo. If the car you're pulling for isn't distinctly different from the pack, finding your driver can be a bit tough.

Even the Speed TV broadcast group said calling and watching tomorrow's race could be a challenge. They also speculated that the spotters may have a tricky time when the green flag drops.

Let's hope not. But I'm just left wondering why the powers-that-be at Hendrick Motorsports decided that Gordon's car should have such a similar look to the #48. If anyone out there knows, feel free to enlighten me.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hey Bruton -- Leave Homestead Alone!

Bruton Smith is at it again. And this time, he has probably ticked off every race fan in Florida.

According to a story on NASCAR.com, Smith is calling for NASCAR to move the Cup season finale from the Homestead Miami Speedway to some bigger, flashier track (like Atlanta or Vegas--which Smith's company just happens to own).

His exact words were, "Why have the last race of the season at some Godforsaken area just north of Cuba?"

Well, let this fourth generation Floridian be blunt: why the hell not?

Homestead may not be a slick SMI mega-track, but I doubt race fans are griping about having to travel to an exotic locale like South Florida to spend one of the most exciting weekends on the circuit. Oh, I forgot, who would willingly visit the The Sunshine State? I mean there's nothing here but beautiful weather, outdoor recreation and miles of sparkling water, sand and wetlands.

Next thing you know, Smith will be saying we should abandon Daytona.

Speedway Superlatives

Best headline of the week: "Mark Martin: East Bound and Down" (by Greg Engle over at NASCAR Examiner). Any writer that can work a Smokey and the Bandit reference into a racing story deserves both our respect and attention. Salute! Good news for Martin though, he's not so down tonight. As I type, he's currently on the Kobalt Tools 500 pole.

Quote of the night: This has to be Darrell Waltrip's description of the Atlanta Motor Speedway's track trajectory. Quoth Darrell, "These ARE the banks of America." Gotta love DW.

Best qualifying surprise: Go-or-go-homer Joe Nemechek scores an eighth place starting spot for the Sunday show. He may not have money, tires or even a pit crew--but "Front Row Joe" wowed them all with a faster run than Kyle Busch.

Worst qualifying surprise: What ails thee, Carl Edwards? Edwards had a less than impressive qualifying lap tonight, which is about par for the season so far. He better get it in gear if he wants to challenge for the championship again in '09. America wants more back flips!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Stewart Just Might Smoke 'Em in Hotlanta

Tony Stewart doesn't like coming in second. And for the past two years at the Kobalt Tools 500, that's what he's been. In 2008, Kyle Busch beat him to the punch. And in 2007, Smoke was bested by current champ Jimmie Johnson.

I'm thinking that '09 could be his year.

Stewart sure could use an early season win. Much to the surprise of his fans and critics alike, Smoke only went to Victory Lane once in 2008. And now that he's a new Sprint Cup team owner, he's got a heap more than pride invested in the success of his #14 car.

"There's 150 people at the shop that I'm responsible for and it's not only them. It's their spouses, their girlfriends, their children, so that number easily turns into 450," Stewart said recently. "Everything that you do you try to keep in mind how it's going to affect yourself, but how it also affects the other people in your organization."

Unfortunately, in the past year, Stewart has made the news more often for getting hot under the collar about the state of his Goodyears than for getting hot on the track.

But look for all that to change in Hotlanta. I predict Stewart will give "Wild Thing" a run for his money.

After all, they don't call him Smoke for nuthin'.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wanna Ride With Junior Anyone?

This just in from the Bristol Motor Speedway... bid on a ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr, help a good cause and receive two cold pit passes to boot! Read on:

If you're one of the thousands rabid Dale Jr. fans out there, you're going to want to check out the "Ride of a Lifetime" online auction at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The auction, which begins March 2 and ends March 16 gives fans the opportunity to bid for their very own "Ride of a Lifetime" with Dale Jr. during pre-race introductions at the March 22 Food City 500.

The winning bidder will meet Dale and then climb into a Ford Mustang to take a lap around the World's Fastest Half-Mile along side him, in front of nearly 160,000 spectators.

In addition to the Ride of a Lifetime, the winning bidder will receive two cold pit passes for Sunday's race and also have the opportunity to purchase two tickets to the Food City 500.

To bid, visit http://www.bristolmotorspeedway.com/. The auction for Dale Jr. will end at 3 p.m. EST March 16 so get your bids in early! Proceeds benefit the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Foundation as well as the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities, a non-profit organization which aids children's agencies in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Digger, I Propose a Truce

Digger is one polarizing little varmint. From sites touting that "Digger Must Die" to polls showing that viewers would rather see Digger take a hike than Dale Jr. win a race, this is one gopher that really gets folks riled up.

I can see why the furball is so hated. Every time anything of note happens on the track, there he is, popping up from his underground lounge to obscure all the action. My beef is that Digger makes raceday coverage seem less like a major sports broadcast and more like a Saturday morning cartoon.

And that's where NASCAR has made a critical miscalculation.

Grownup race fans may hate Digger (and keep hoping that his furry little head will get smashed by a set of Goodyears). But their kids don't. The kids LOVE him. My nephews get excited every time Digger makes an appearance on screen. And I've heard the same from several of my friends. As much as they hate to admit it, their children dig Digger too.

So it would appear that as a potential revenue stream to lure younger viewers into the NASCAR fold and turn them into paying customers at the merchandise trailer, Digger makes sense. But what doesn't make sense is expecting the parents of the those kids (and fans without children) to enjoy each and every time Digger and his irritating posse break into the broadcast.

NASCAR and FOX would be better served to go for broke with Digger. Why not create full half-hour episodes that air each Sunday (or Saturday, in some cases) before the real race coverage begins? That way we could nix the abhorred mini-sodes that muck up the pre-race works on Sundays and get back to live driver interviews and commentary. And NASCAR wouldn't lose an opportunity to entice the younger set to buy Digger gear and become lifelong fans.

Then, if we could convince DW and the gang to rein it in and keep gopher sightings to a minimum during the race--Digger might not be so bad after all.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Old Coots vs. Young Guns -- An All-Star Race We'd Love To See

We all know the economy is in the tank and track owners from Daytona to Martinsville are trying anything and everything to get people out to the races.

Thus, it is in the interest of economic stimulus for the sport we all know and love, that I offer a race weekend promotion that's guaranteed to generate the interest of fans across the nation: an Old School versus New School Shootout.

Who wouldn't want to see Richard Petty go head to head with Kyle Busch? What could be more fun than watching Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace race to the finish with the likes of Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin? Of course the logistics could be a nightmare, and then there's the little matter of cars and equipment. However, I for one, would like to see how the current Sprint Cup hotshots measure up. Today's newbies come to the sport with tons of hype reflecting off their designer sunglasses. But when it gets down to brass tacks, do they really have what it takes to hang with the legends of motorsports?

Of course we'd have to find a spot for Dale Junior or it wouldn't be an automatic sellout. And Kyle Petty would probably pout to the media if he weren't included in some way. But these are just minor obstacles. The possibilities of such an event are endless. Who knows, Cale Yarborough might even be persuaded to show up and throw a punch or two!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mike Bliss Put On the Hits In a Sam's Town Thriller



If the Sam's Town 300 had been a demolition derby, Mike Bliss would have been the car to beat.

In a hard-driving, caution-filled slugfest, Bliss made contact with just about everyone and everything on the track--Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, The Wall.

And you thought Dale Jr. had bad luck.

Truth be told, Bliss' loss was the race fan's gain. With caution after caution and smash-up after smash-up the race didn't have one dull moment in the mix. And that's why folks tune in. There was so much insanity, the announcers in the broadcast booth were even more tongue-tied than usual. At one point, they confessed there was too much happening at once and they couldn't keep up. Unfortunately for him, we have Mike Bliss to thank for most of that excitement.

The most memorable wreck of the day came with just five laps to go. Denny Hamlin's car blew a tire and Bliss powered right into his bumper, lifting Hamlin's back wheels off the ground and starting a fire under the hood. This made for some great replay footage, and some deliciously tense moments as Hamlin had to wait for his car to roll to a halt before climbing out of the steel-can inferno.

All's well that ends well, as the saying goes. Hamlin walked away unscathed to race another day and Bliss left the track to face the cameras behind the wall. I couldn't help but feel for the guy as he told a reporter that it was just a "weird day" and he couldn't wait to go home.

Hey Mike B., don't fret. If the series gave out points for entertainment value, you'd be leading the pack. And besides, if this racing thing doesn't pan out you might just have a future in roller derby.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Vegas the Pits for Hendrick Motorsports

In the words of Shooter Jennings "If life's a bowl of cherries, why is mine the pits?"

And that well may be what the folks at Hendrick Motorsports are wondering after the checkered flag waved at the Shelby 427.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. All five HMS teams ran impressively in practice, pulling some of the fastest times of the weekend. In pre-race interviews Jeff Gordon was confident. Mark Martin was pleased. Junior was optimistic. Brad Keselowsi was just happy to be there. And when the green flag dropped, the Lowe's car was an early lap leader, quickly outpacing the field.

The good vibes didn't last long.

It all started on lap two when Brad Keselowski slid up the track and into the wall. Chalk that up to a rookie mistake.

Then Mark Martin, a favorite to win the whole shebang, blew an engine for the second race in a row. Night over. Unfortunately, there's not much ol' Mark could have done differently there.

But the real fun started when Jimmie Johnson, the hands-down car to beat, overshot his pit stall and had to be rolled back into the box under the green flag. At almost the same moment---as if the planets were cruelly aligned for their mutual destruction---his teammate Jeff Gordon missed the entrance to pit road completely. And as Gordon's car spun in a cloud of haze and dust, the caution came out and bad news along with it.

Johnson lost several positions. But guess who else happened to be on pit road with him? Yup, Dale Junior--who had worked his way from back in the field up to eighth place. Junebug sure does seem to have an extraordinary talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then it went from bad to worse for Jimmie J. As the race wound down, Johnson got loose and had a close encounter with a safer barrier, thus ending his shot at the top five. Gordon somehow managed to limp into sixth spot with his taped-up car. And, thanks to an Edwards' engine failure, Junior eked out his first top 10 of the season.

If you're a fan of HMS, the night's chain of events often left you shouting at the television in frustrated disbelief. But take heart Hendrick Nation. Racing is a lot like life. And sometimes, as Greg Biffle could tell you, pits happen.