Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Superlatives - Dover Edition

The Autism Speaks 400 wasn't the most exciting race of the season, but it did have its moments. Below are the winners and losers of The Monster Mile.

The Two Things At Once Award: With another 2nd-place finish at Dover and a new first place spot in The Chase, Tony Stewart gets my vote as the guy who's most likely to make this driver/owner thing work. Not only are the teams of Stewart-Haas Racing competitive in their first year out, they're damned good. With rumors abounding that Smoke will add a third car to his stable in 2010, it looks like this is one driver who can own a team and still be a formidable on-track contender.

Smooth Move of the Race: For sheer racing gravitas, this award goes to David Reutimann. The pole sitter found himself in an uncomfortable position when David Stremme wrecked right in front of him. But with some quick-thinking smoothness, Reutimann spun his car around the careening Stremme to avoid one monster of a crash. "The Franchise's" move saved the day and helped give Michael Waltrip Racing a top 20 finish.

Weekend Game-Changer: Rick Hendrick made a tough call this week, replacing Tony Eury Jr. with Lance McGrew atop the #88 pit box. And, from the sound of the team's radio chatter and Dale Jr's 12th-place finish, it looks like the crew chief shake-up was a good thing. Not only did the switch appease Junior Nation, McGrew's calls seemed to satisfy his driver as well. Junior told the media after the race, "I was pretty pleased that we were making good gains on the car all race long."

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You Award: Kyle Busch made headlines this week taking yet another verbal jab at Dale Earnhardt Jr., his favorite punching bag. But in the end, Busch's punches came back to haunt him. Call it instant karma or poetic justice, but Busch lost Saturday's Nationwide race to Brad Keselowski (who just happpens to drive for the Dale Jr.-owned JR Motorsports). As if that wasn't enough, Busch finished Sunday's Cup race in 23rd spot, well behind Dale Jr's 12-place-finish. Of course, Busch will likely blame tire trouble and/or equipment failure for his lackluster performances. After all, it's never the driver's fault. Right, Kyle?

Killer Pit Crew Performance: Matt Kenseth's Killer Bees secured a leading spot for their driver in one heckuva pit stop. Too bad Kenseth's car didn't have the goods to contend for the win. But kudos to his crew for their fantastic performance.

Rebound of the Race: Greg Biffle went from one lap down to having a legitmate shot at the checkers. Taking just two tires on the last pit stop put the #16 Ford in position to win. But in the end, Johnson and Stewart proved too much for The Biff. Still, third place is nothing to sneer at--and it's Biffle's ninth top 10 finish at Dover.

Johnson Shows Why He's the Champ

There was a point in the Autism Speaks 400 when everyone thought the #48 team had given the race away, like so many cans of English peas at a Thanksgiving food drive.

After a miscue amongst its tire changers, the Lowe's Chevy suffered through a lengthy pit stop and forked over eight spots, exiting the pits in a miserable 9th position. And with only 30-some laps to go and a heap of lapped cars in the way, it looked like the fastest car at Dover would go home winless. Commentator Darrell Waltrip even said that Johnson might catch the leaders, but he'd never beat them...there simply wasn't enough time.

But Waltrip and race fans ought to know by now--never ever count out Jimmie Johnson.

In a super-fast ride with four fresh tires, Johnson swept through the field like a wildfire in August, picking off cars, gaining momentum and leaving stunned viewers in his wake. Then, to top off this lesson in late-race showmanship, Johnson ran side-by-side with Tony Stewart, eventually edging out Smoke for the win.

After the race, even Stewart admitted that Johnson deserves this victory hands down, "The fastest car won today."

And for Johnson, this impressive win is just another trophy on his shelf--and one more mile marker on his way to a history-making championship season.

Photo caption: Johnson gets ready for his appearance on Speed TV's Victory Lane, courtesy of @kylepetty on Twitter.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle Team Up for Charity

This Sunday at Dover, NASCAR will honor America's law enforcement officers, including those killed in the line of duty, with special pre-race ceremonies. So you could say it's good timing that Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle have just announced they're teaming up to personally help K9 law enforcement officers.

With the help of your $10 donation,, in collaboration with Stewart and Biffle, will raise funds to vest 192 K9 officers working in 32 states. And 25 percent of all cash raised will be raffled off to one lucky donor.

In July of 2008, the Tony Stewart Foundation vested all 30 Indiana State Police dogs, plus 10 additional dogs in three other states. Stewart’s philanthropic efforts called much attention toward Vest ‘N P.D.P.’s president and founder Susie Jean’s one-person shop and suggested a need for a national effort to raise funds to help these K9 officers. So far, 350 dogs in 38 states have been provided a custom-fit vest to protect them in the line of duty. These custom-made bullet-and-knife-resistant vests are made from the same Kevlar material used in human officer’s vests and are personally embroidered for each K9 officer.

Vests range from $1,200 to $1,500 each, which, according to Susie Jean, is “A small price to pay for our police dogs that protect their human partner as well as our communities.” Each $10 donation enters you to win the cash prize. The raffle ends June 14th! To learn more about Vest ‘N P.D.P. visit Susie Jean’s Web site at and click on buy tickets. And, to catch up with all the philanthropic work of Stewart and Biffle, visit and

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Heat Is On for #88

It's been a long time coming, but change has come to the #88 team. And with big change, comes big expectations.

The rumor that has been denied for months, is a rumor no more. Effective this weekend, Tony Eury Jr. is out as Dale Earnhardt Jr's crew chief. Brian Whitesell will be atop the pit box Sunday, followed by Lance McGrew (Brian Vickers former crew chief) for the rest of the year.

From the sound of things, McGrew isn't going to just wait around and hope for better things. "Everything and everybody will be evaluated," McGrew told Thursday. "First thing next week, I basically start evaluating everything. I think some decisions will be easy and some really hard, because in the economy today, and the decisions that have to be made to turn a ship, sometimes that affects people's jobs. And that's the last thing you want to have happen to you today."

What this move means for the Amp/National Guard team is clear enough. Once McGrew gets the right folks in the right spots and gives Junior a Chevy that's competitive again, there will be no more excuses. It's time for Junebug to put up, shut up or give up. Period.

Here's hoping he puts up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stewart and Reutimann Ain't Got Nuthin' on These Cats

The rain-delay altercation between Tony Stewart and David Reutimann got a lot of press this week (this blog included). But when you think about it in terms of jaw-dropping excitement, it was about as thrilling as watching a tree grow. Compared to the more physical exchanges the sport has seen over the years, Monday's little skirmish was pretty darn tame.

In recent years, there's been Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, a helmet-throwing Tony Raines, and of course Mr. and Mrs. Bobby Hamilton Jr. doubleteaming Landon Cassill in a hillbilly display of temper and choice fingers. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So sit back, relax and relive some of those high-drama feuds. Stewart and Reutimann look like nuns compared to this bunch:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mr. Hendrick, It's Time to Split Up the Family

I don't know what was more painful this weekend--suffering through a broadcast of FOX's "American Dad" during Sunday's rain delay, or watching Dale Jr. try to keep his #88 car out of the wall on Monday afternoon.

By now, race fans are used to Junior running well behind his Hendrick teammates. However, Sunday's performance, with its 38th place result, was just plain ridiculous.

It's bad enough Junebug qualified in 27th spot. But there's no excuse for going two laps down so quickly and finishing behind teams who are lucky just to get sponsors by race day. It's not like his team had the excuse of a cut tire like Harvick (or an equipment malfunction, or a miscue in the pits). Junior's car was junk from the start. And it was pitiful to watch.

If the rumors circulating in cyberspace are any indication, team owner Rick Hendrick may choose to go with a new crew chief on the #88 pit box as early as this weekend.

Hendrick has been loyal to Eury Jr. so far, but on Tuesday he didn't come out with guns blazing in his crew chief's defense. "Could it change? No. We're talking about things. We're meeting. We're going to make decisions as the days go by, but we haven't made any decision as of right now," Hendrick told reporters.

Let's hope there's something big in the works. I hate to bust up a family as much as the next girl--but it may be time for cousin Tony to move on.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cussed Out, Rained Out, But Still a Winner

He was cussed out by Tony Stewart and washed out by rainfall, but in the end, a win is a win.

And David Reutimann will take it.

Although a Cup victory for Reutimann in 2009 isn't a big surprise, the fact that he won this particular race is. Listening to pre-race coverage, Hendrick Motorsports was supposed to dominate, Ryan Newman was pegged to give Stewart-Haas its first points win, or Kasey Kahne was a shoe-in to repeat last year's victory. And early on, it looked like The House of Gibbs had the whole shebang locked up as Kyle Busch quickly drove away from the field.

Tony Stewart clearly thought Reutimann didn't have a shot. During one of the rain delays, he walked over to the #00 Toyota and accused Reutimann of racing like a Nationwide driver. It was a re-emergence of the Stewart we all know and love. And things got even more heated when one of Rudy's crew decided to take Smoke on mid-tirade.

But racing fortunes can turn on a dime, and the fates do not always favor the fastest car, the quickest pit crew or the most aggressive driver. Sometimes, a victory boils down to a gutsy strategy and a little bit of weather.

And that's fine by Reutimann.

"When you envision yourself winning your first Sprint Cup race, you envision it different," Reutimann said. "But it's so hard to win these deals, we'll take it any way we can."

Not only is this a career milestone for Reutimann, it's also the first victory for Michael Waltrip Racing. To put it politely, until the first few races of 2009, nobody would have given MWR a snowball's chance in hell of winning a Cup race.

My, oh my, what a difference a year makes! Wonder what Stewart thinks about that?

Note From NASCAR-ista: For all you Tweeps in the NASCAR universe, David Reutimann does not have a Twitter account, per the communications office at Michael Waltrip Racing. Yes, there is a guy who claims to be Reutimann on Twitter, but he's a phony.

Associated Press Photo

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Something Better Than a Cup Race

It's been said that there's no great loss without some gain. And Sunday night was no exception.

Race fans across the country weren't too happy when the rain kept coming at Lowe's Motor Speedway. We'd all been looking forward to this night for weeks. It's a Memorial Day tradition -- four-and-some-odd hours of Cup racing in the middle of NASCAR's hometown. I mean, what could be better?

Believe it or not, there was indeed something better. When FOX decided to broadcast their darned annoying "Animation Domination" lineup in lieu of more driver interviews and All-Star recaps, I was less than thrilled. Still, I was hopeful the rain would slacken off and the track would be dry in an hour or so. But what in the world would I watch while I waited?

Thank God for PBS. After surfing through a few channels, I found the annual broadcast of the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, DC. More than any patriotic paint scheme could ever do, this television special fully captured the sacrifices that our servicemen make today and have made throughout our nation's history.

My own grandfather landed on D-Day on the beaches of Normandy. He survived that landing, only to be shot shortly afterwards at the battle of St. Lo. He died from those wounds. So, instead of another post about racing, I'm posting a hero's memory of that pivotal day in our nation's history. The footage below is from the PBS Memorial Day Concert 2007.

Sunday Morning Nationwide Rundown

Mike Bliss is having one heckuva weekend. He starts 7th in tonight's Cup race, but last night he took the checkered flag in the washed out Carquest Auto Parts 300. Though it looked like Kyle Busch would run away with the win early on, Bliss was in the right place at the right caution and ended up stealing the show. It's the driver's first Nationwide win since 2004 and a long way from his wreck-studded Vegas performance earlier in the season. Just a side note: Perhaps it wasn't entirely politically appropriate for the ESPN reporter to say that Bliss' crew was "doing a rain dance"--after all, his team is sponsored by the Miccosukee Indian Gaming & Resort.

In a car that had only run two laps prior to the green flag, Brad Keselowski managed to pull of an impressive eighth place finish. In what could be described as "not one of his better days," Keselowski wrecked two cars in practice, due to tire malfunctions. But in the end, he managed to save his Dover car last night (after starting in 40th spot) and take home a top 10 finish to boot. Not a bad points night for The Kez.

Kevin Harvick gets my vote for best use of a patriotic paint scheme. Not only did his red, white and blue KHI Chevy look darn good, Harvick also did a fine job of talking up the VFW's Buddy Poppy program and the importance of remembering the sacrifices of our troops on Memorial Day Weekend.

The ever-chatty Brendan Gaughan scored a second-place finish last night--and was even competing for the lead--just before NASCAR called it a night. His good run earned Gaughan the Raybestos Rookie of the Race. Team owner Rusty Wallace, who was spotted roaming pit road, sure looked pleased.

Photo Credit:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lowe's Starting Line Up Surprises

The go-or-go-homers put on quite a show during qualifying Thursday at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Three of them, to be exact, shook up the field by finishing in the top 11.

Mike Bliss scored an impressive seventh-place spot, surprising even himself. "We weren't very good in practice and I had no idea how the car would be in qualifying," Bliss told the media.

Racing veteran and fan favorite "Awesome Bill" Elliott snagged 10th place as he qualified for his 800th Cup start, while Front-Row-Joe Nemechek drove away with 11th. Rookie Scott Speed even managed to pull off a respectable 18th position. Not bad for a dude who has sometimes seemed more concerned about the state of his toenail polish than actually making races.

Unfortunately, there was one Thursday result that should be a surprise, but has now lost its shock value. Once again, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified well behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson will begin the race in third, fourth and fifth respectively. Junior, on the other hand, is stuck back in the pack in 27th. He might as well be racing at Daytona tonight with the amount of traffic he'll have to swim through to contend for the win.

The bright spot for the #88 team (and anyone else who qualified poorly) is that in a 600-mile race, there's plenty of time to drive to the front. But if you're a glass-half-empty type of person, there's also plenty of time for things to go wrong ...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting to Know Bobby Labonte

Bobby Labonte is one good sport.

As part of my guest column about Labonte's involvement with the Safe Seach Schools Program, (which will be posted Friday on NASCAR This Week), the former Cup champ agreed to answer my own little version of those annoying surveys that are so popular on Facebook and MySpace.

So without further ado, here's Bobby!

Are you a morning person or a night person? Morning person

Peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese? Peanut butter and banana, actually

Waylon Jennings or Led Zeppelin? Either/or depending on the day

Cats or dogs? Dogs

Pick-up truck or sleek sports car? Pick-up truck

Mountain retreat or beachside vacation? Beachside vacation

Low fat or low carb? Low fat

Plan ahead or tend to procrastinate? Procrastinate

Twitter or Facebook? Both, but if I have to pick one, Twitter.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? The ability to fly -- not on land because we kind of already do that!

Is racing still fun? Absolutely racing is still fun. I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't. We've had some ups and downs this season, but we're still learning. That's the fun part--trying to get better every week.

Photo courtesy of Safe Search Schools Program

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kahne's Secret to the 600? A Tasty Pit Stop

The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the season. And when the drivers climb out of their cars after the checkered flag waves, they usually look a little sweaty, often disgruntled and plain tuckered out. But other than a daily workout routine, is there anything a driver can do to better endure the 200 mph marathon at Lowe's Motor Speedway?

Well, according to Kasey Kahne, going the distance at Lowe's could be as simple as partaking of a little light refreshment mid-race, "When Ray was still around, he passed me in, I forget what it was, a Power Bar, some type of bar during one of the cautions about halfway through the race. First year I got it, I put it aside, I didn't feel like eating. And the second year he said, 'Just try it, just do it.' And I ate it, and it was night and day how much better I felt for the next 100, for the final 100 miles of the race. And so I think, yeah, having something there, 400 miles in or so, plus the water and the Gatorade and the things you're drinking throughout the races really helps just being in the car for five and a half hours."

In fact, Kahne said keeping himself nutritionally fueled up plays a big part in the entire team making the right adjustments to the car. "To be able to keep up with the race track and your race car by making the right adjustments throughout the race is key. And I think if you feel better and are comfortable and giving the right feedback, everything will get better. So, yeah, having something on one of those pit stops isn't a bad idea."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Think With Your Dipstick, Jimmie!

Oh, Jimmie J! What were you thinking?

Last week you were so pretty. You had that shock of wavy hair which makes the girls swoon. That rugged bit of facial growth that says "Yes, I may be dreamy, but I'm also chock full of testosterone." You were the cover boy of NASCAR--a Mr. Darcy in a firesuit.

So what on earth possessed you to go and get your head buzzed? I know your intentions were good, as you told us in your teleconference today:

"I was at a friend’s house for a barbecue on Sunday. And his kids thought – there was a bunch of neighborhood kids they thought it would be a great idea to shave our heads. And one of the fathers agreed to do it. Then once he pulled it off, he started harassing me to shave my head and the kids were there and they wanted to do it so bad. And I let them shave my head. So it was funny. Got some great photos and the kids all had a great laugh. Kids like four years old up to seven or eight."

That's all fine and dandy, but what about us? Sigh.

Sure, your hair will grow back in a couple weeks. And perhaps your new 'do will make you a bit more aerodynamic.

But next time Jimmie, do this fan a favor and try thinking with your dipstick--or at least consult a stylist.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who's Where in NASCAR

Rick Hendrick: HMS fans set your Tivo. Team owner Rick Hendrick will appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show tomorrow for an episode entitled "Heroes in Hard Times". Check out the preview here (click on Tuesday).

Carl Edwards: Cousin Carl is rarin' and ready to follow the likes of Michael Waltrip into the world of prime-time television. He'll be a guest star on The Bill Engvall Show, on TBS this summer. In an episode entitled "The Way We Were," Edwards will portray "the smug, hip manager of a 20-something nightclub." Something tells me the always glib Edwards won't have any trouble delivering his lines.

Chad Knaus: He's hanging out at the top. The very top, that is. Knaus was just named Sports Illustrated's #1 NASCAR crew chief. He was voted king of the heap by the folks at S.I. and his NASCAR peers. Quoth Darrell Waltrip, "I think Chad Knaus is like Vince Lombardi or Bear Bryant. They don't care who the quarterback is. They think as long as they do their system, they're going to win."

Ryan Newman: Ryan "The Rocket Man" Newman visited Fort Jackson, an Army Base in Columbia, SC, today to hang out with fans and sign some autographs. Check out the video, courtesy of The State newspaper.

Dale Earnhardt Jr: Ol' Junebug will motor on up to Detriot and show his support for beleaguered GM automarkers on Thursday, May 28. He'll be visiting General Motors employees and members of the Michigan National Guard at the Motor City Casino. More details here.

Photo from

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Self-Indulgent All-Star Memory

The year was 2000. The month was May. The day was sunny. And I was riding in a extended cab Chevy Silverado to the All-Star Race in Concord, NC.

I'd never been to a NASCAR race before. I didn't know a restrictor plate from a pit board. I didn't know what all those numbers on the scoring tower meant. Heck, I didn't even know it WAS a scoring tower. All I knew was I was young, having fun, and in the company of my South Carolina buds who believed with all their might and main that NASCAR was "the greatest sport in all the world."

When we finally agreed on a place to park the truck, I hopped down and was flabbergasted at the acreage of vehicles as far as the eye could see. I was floored by the mobs of people funneling toward the track, like so many hordes of ants. I was wide-eyed over how just the sight of their favorite drivers made the fans cheer, scream and wave their arms like maniacs. It was louder than an N*Sync concert. And crazier too.

Not long after the race began, I realized I had a lot to learn. Namely, that if you don't have a favorite driver, you may as well have stayed home and donated your ticket to someone who cared. In my group alone there was a Mark Martin fan, Bobby Labonte faithful, a Jeff Gordon believer and a cuckoo for Dale Earnhardt Jr. So I determined to pick a driver fast...or I'd be doomed to live as an outsider when we returned to the Carolina Midlands.

With not an ounce of a clue, I settled on Joe Nemechek, since the announcer said he hailed from Florida. But when I started cheering on my new favorite racer, a pudgy man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said "Honey, nobody but nobody roots for Joe Nemechek." I smiled sweetly and begged to differ. I still do today.

With the race winding down, a tanned blonde dude on the row in front of us stripped off his tank top and began waving it over his head like a drunken male stripper, while loudly extolling the virtues of Ricky Rudd. An image forever stamped in my mind's eye.

Dale Jr ended up winning that night. And, as soon as my best friend collected herself, we all headed to Bobby Labonte's souvenir hauler. Lucky for us we did. While we were making our purchases, the very walkway we had traversed on our way to the track collapsed, injuring fans--some critically.

It was several more hours before I fell into bed...3 a.m. to be exact. I was nursing blistered feet, a mild sunburn and an exhausted brain. But I had learned quite a lot about the realm of motorsports, my friends and even myself. And just before dozing off I had to admit: "NASCAR IS the greatest sport in all the world."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Who Wouldda Thunk It?" Only Anyone Who's Been Paying Attention...

Tony Stewart smoked the All-Star race Saturday night taking the #14 car to Victory Lane for the first time since making the switch from driver to driver/owner.

But seriously...was it really that much of a surprise? Darrell Waltrip and the folks on Speed TV seemed to think so. Waltrip even seemed mildly shocked that his personal Mini-Me Kyle Busch didn't leave the track with a runaway victory. "Who Woulda Thunk It?," was DW's exact quote, when Stewart crossed the finish line first.

Actually Darrell, all of us who have been monitoring Stewart-Haas' continued improvement over the last several races "thunk it" indeed. With the kind of progress Stewart-Haas has been making and the talented moxy that Stewart possesses, we all knew it was just a matter of time before he took the checkered flag in 2009.

Stewart's performance Saturday night was a welcome reminder that Rowdy isn't the only driver in the field who knows how to handle a stock car. From Stewart's almost-pass-in-the-grass to his slick moves late in the race, it's clear that Stewart's still got it--and he's got it in spades.

Anyone Know This Soldier's Story?

At February's Nationwide Series season opener in Daytona, I was hanging out at driver introductions, on the peasant side of the yellow ropes, waiting to get some up-close pix of my favorite NASCAR personalities.

While standing there baking in the sun, I met a U.S. soldier stationed in Augusta, Ga. and his little boy, who was all dressed up in a Jeff Gordon costume. I took their photo, because they were so nice and the little boy was so cute. And just a few minutes later, the CEO of Camping World came over and asked the Dad if he and his little boy would like to ride in the pace car. The group I was with started cheering...and away the two went to the VIP area.

Since that race, I've seen this father and son on just about every Sprint Cup broadcast in the region--Atlanta, Talladega and just now on pit road at Lowe's Motor Speedway, watching Carl Edwards' on-camera interview.

Only in a sport like NASCAR would a little boy who loves Jeff Gordon and his hero of a Dad (who admitted to me he wasn't into racing at all until his son got him into it) be embraced and welcomed with such open arms. I have a feeling Gordon and his folks arranged for him to attend races and get special access...but I sure would like to know the whole story. If anyone knows, please drop me a line.

This Time I Agree With Bruton

Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith called for the standardizing of catch fences at all NASCAR tracks earlier this month. And after Friday night's Camping World truck race, I've got to agree with him.

In addition to the near catastrophic finish at Talladega, which ended relatively well all things considered, we've now seen a second situation this season in which a strong enough and high enough catch fence did its job.

Mike Skinner's #5 truck spun out at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Friday and hit the inside wall, which happens often enough. But then he careened up the track at breakneck speed and before you could say "holy crap," was clobbered by an unwitting TJ Bell and sent on a little flight into the safer barrier and fence. Bouncing back onto the track, his truck landed on its side and slid for a good many yards catching fire in the process. Fortunately, he and his truck came to rest right-side-up and Skinner walked away unscathed. His car, on the other hand, was driven away on the back of a flatbed, looking like the sorriest loser of a demolition derby.

Skinner's rough and tumble ride at Charlotte, combined with the slow-mo replays of Edwards' #99 car literally being caught and then deflected by the cabled fence at 'Dega, is enough to make you want to write a note of personal thanks to catch fence manufacturers.

But it should also be enough to prod NASCAR to institute some sort of standard. After all, who's monitoring those tracks that may not keep their fences in such good repair? What about the tracks whose fences are too low?

Says Smith, as quoted by ESPN NASCAR writer David Newton, "Let's fix it because the sport is at risk. Cables [that provide strength to the fence] are just like fishing lines. You have a certain test lines. Cables can be like a quarter inch and have a 90,000 PSI [pounds per square inch]."

"That's the things we need to do at all these speedways to make sure we have the strongest there is ... You've got to do your homework and make sure you have the tensile strength in those cables."

Like I said, I've got to agree with Bruton on this one. Rather than dumb down the racing at these fast and furious tracks, let's just be sure the fans and their favorite drivers are the safest they can be.

Photo by David Griffin NASCAR Scene

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Headed to the All-Star Race? Try Some Sweet Tea From Junior (Johnson, That Is)

Beginning this week, race fans in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia can grab a gallon of Junior Johnson's own Sweet Iced Tea and Lemonade at their local Lowes Food store. The beverages are sweetened with real granulated sugar and made with purified North Carolina Mountain Water--sounds like they'd make good mixers for tailgating to me.

"The very first Lowes Foods store was in Wilkesboro, not too far from our farm," Johnson said. "We’re excited to launch this product with a retail partner based here in our home state.”

For the uninitiated, Johnson won 50 NASCAR races. Equally successful as a team owner, his drivers won 139 races and six series championships. Cale Yarborough won three straight titles from 1976-1978 and Darrell Waltrip won the three other championships in 1981, ’82 and ’85. He is ranked as the 3rd most successful owner in NASCAR history. His tea can be found in refrigerated gallon jugs in the dairy section of Lowes Food Stores.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rockin' the All-Star Vote -- A Little Help for Race Fans

Political party affiliations be damned. This week, NASCAR fans have a much more complicated vote to cast--namely, to decide which Sprint Cup driver is All-Star worthy.

We only have until Saturday at 7:30 p.m. to cast our vote for who's in. So to help the indecisive among us, I've put together a short little voting guide for the 10 drivers who are currently leading the fan vote. And if this isn't enough, check out a search engine like and type in the names of your pick. We fans need all the help we can get!

AJ Allmendinger: He's the king of shameless self-promotion and he unabashedly begs for votes every time a TV camera crosses his path. He's got one top five and two top 10 finishes this season. Plus, he races for The King Richard Petty, so what more needs to be said?

Bill Elliott: Awesome Bill from Dawsonville has long been a NASCAR all-star. With 44 career Cup wins, this old-school vet may be a bit long in the tooth...but he can still lay down a fast lap. Because of his past career successes, Elliott gets my vote, hands down.

Joey Logano: Boy Wonder has two top 10 finishes this season. But winning Rookie of the Year should be enough accolades for this kid. Making him an all-star so early on is definitely putting the cart before the horse.

Jamie McMurray: He's a guy that race day pundits usually pick as a sleeper to contend for the win. But so far in '09 he hasn't been able to pull it off. In fact, McMurray hasn't won a Cup race since 2007. But things could be worse--at least the #26 team has three top 10s to their credit this season.

Juan Pablo Montoya: He takes no guff and he cuts no slack. Plus, the off chance that Montoya might start a fist fight on the track is reason enough to cast your vote for the #42. If you need numbers, he's got three top 10 finishes this year.

David Ragan: Ragan scored his first Nationwide win this season, but he has yet to take the checkered flag in Sprint Cup (his best finish thus far is a top 10). Still, there's something about Ragan that's intensely likeable. Maybe it's his Unadilla accent.

David Reutimann: A pleasant surprise in the early going and a huge boon to MWR. As they say, Reutimann is The Franchise. With four top 10 finishes and one top five, surely Reutimann will pull out a win before Homestead.

Eliott Sadler: I love ol' Elliott, but I just can't get past his near crying jag when he realized he was going to lose this year's Daytona 500. It was almost as uncomfortable as watching Gilles tear up on Dancing With the Stars. But then again, he does have a top five and a top 10 finish.

Martin Truex Jr.: Any driver that can last an entire race whilst suffering from a kidney stone deserves your admiration and arguably your vote. Plus, he's finished in the top 10 three times this year. Martin's a man among boys.

Michael Waltrip: Where do I begin? He wrecks almost every time he touches the track (and usually more than once per race). But then again, he sure is funny. If it's entertainment you seek, then by all means vote Waltrip. Besides, he has managed to eke out one top 10 finish.

Hey Now Keselowski's an All-Star

Check out my guest column posted at NASCAR This Week. Thanks to David Cohea for finding me on Twitter. Their site rocks. You should be reading it--and religiously.

By Michelle Dawn

(Editor's note: Twitter does have a few uses beyond chatter on the wires. Curious about a story linked in a a #NASCAR tweet I came upon Michelle Dawn's NASCAR-ista, a smart, tightly-written, funny and fun racin' blog. I emailed her via her blog and asked if she would be willing to submit a guest column. She agreed. Thanks to Michelle--and ya'll be sure to make her blog a regular stop on your blogosphere racin' rounds!)

In just six Sprint Cup starts, Brad Keselowski has racked up one win and one top 10 finish—along with a spot in Saturday night’s All-Star race.Not bad for a guy that, until now, has flown well under the media’s radar.No one would have pegged Keselowski to be this spring’s Talladega champ. Just as nobody would have predicted his seventh place finish at fierce and fiery Darlington—especially when he began the day at the tail end of the field.

To be fair, if Keselowski had only won at Talladega, critics would have likely chalked him up to one lucky SOB. I mean, anything’s possible on a restrictor plate track. But passing the test of Old Lady Darlington proves that this kid has the mettle and the proverbial wherewithal to handle whatever curves a race throws his way.

Let’s compare apples to apples. Even NASCAR’s current phenom and race day hotshot Kyle Busch didn’t have this auspicious a Sprint Cup debut—in his first starts of the series Busch won zero races and scored a season-high 24th-place finish. Plus, Busch entered NASCAR’s top tier with a bit of a problem keeping things cool, a tendency to overdrive and a mouth that sometimes needed a muzzle.

It’s early yet, but so far, Keselowski shows none of Busch’s untoward tendencies. He’s not a bad boy. But he’s not necessarily the boy-next-door either. He races with respect, but he doesn’t give way simply because a veteran driver is battling him for the spot. And even if he’s competing against his Nationwide team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Keselowski is clearly in it to win it. Few young drivers would have had the guts to hold on for that Talladega victory, come hell or high water.

On the flip side, Keselowski also knows how to handle an on-camera interview with poise and a bit of smooth. His are not one-word answers and grunts of assent; nor are they the inarticulate ramblings of a newbie who’s just “happy to be here.”

Here’s what Keselowski had to say after his smashing Talladega victory: “If I wouldn’t have pushed Carl up to the front, I would have finished 30th…I wasn’t going to take the bullet. I’m not in a situation in my career where I can afford to take bullet. I had nothing to lose.”

All this combined with his out-and-out talent could turn Keselowski into the next sponsor’s dream and newest fan favorite. And Rick Hendrick would be a dummy if he let Brad get away.After all, Keselowski is officially an all-star.

Floridian Michelle Dawn works a corporate job by day and blogs about NASCAR by night at She’s an avid reader of classic literature, a lover of country music and a hater of sushi. Her dream job would be to cover NASCAR full time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Little Race Day Inspiration

Franklin Graham, son of renowned and beloved preacher Billy Graham, will deliver an inspirational message to the fans in attendance at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24. Graham's message will be broadcast via the speedway's public address system and then he'll stay to offer the pre-race invocation.

Graham, a remarkably talented speaker in his own right, is currently the CEO of Samaritan's Purse, a humanitarian organization based in Boone, North Carolina that assists in disaster relief, feeds the hungry and works to alleviate human suffering around the world.

"I'm excited to have the opportunity to speak to these race fans," said Graham. "I've been a race fan most of my life so, to have this chance to speak about God's love and to present the Gospel is a real privilege."

In addition to Graham's message and invocation during pre-race, he will also assist with Motor Racing Outreach's Sunday service to the drivers and team members in the garage.

"The Graham family has meant so much, not only to me and my family, but so many families throughout the world and especially in the Carolinas," said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway. "To have Franklin Graham at Lowe's Motor Speedway delivering an inspirational message to the fans prior to the Coca-Cola 600 is truly going to be a special treat for everyone in attendance."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Darlington Recap

Chad Knaus may have the biggest brain in the Sprint Cup garage. Saddled with a backup car that had never seen a lap on the Darlington track, Knaus and crew managed to get Jimmie Johnson and the Lowes Chevy from worst to nearly first by the end of the Southern 500. Working on the #48 during the first yellow flag, staying out on the track during the next caution put Johnson in position early. And with Johnson's skill and a little luck, they brought home a #2 finish for Hendrick Motorsports. That's what I call a good night.

A few more Darlington observations:
He don't need no rocking chair: With his second win of the season veteran Mark Martin conquered the "track too tough to tame" pretty handily. It's almost as if Martin was sending a not-so-subtle message "sit back boys and let me show you how it's done." Due to his victorious finish, Martin's currently sits in the top 12 in points.

Hand it to the kid: Joey Logano's taken a lot of flack for his lackluster start so far--and so has Joe Gibbs racing. But this week's tips from Cale Yarborough must have paid off because the kid looked downright impressive at a track that's toyed with much more experienced drivers than he. Perhaps JGR should have enlisted the help of Yarborough a bit sooner.

It won't be long now: The team at Stewart-Haas Racing put together another impressive race this week. Garnering 3rd and 4th place finishes, this team is on track to win big--and soon. I'd say in the next three races one of these cats will be in Victory Lane.

Where's the Karma when you need it?: Nothing like having your night ended by a teammate. Just ask Carl Edwards. Smacking the wall thanks to Greg Biffle, Edwards' night ended on a decidedly low note--32nd to be exact. Biffle, the culprit in question, snagged a respectable top 10. Sometimes Carl, life just isn't fair.

Earning his stripes: Brad Keselowski proved his mettle and also that Talladega was no fluke. With a seventh-place finish and a solid, well-run race (he started 31st), it looks like Brad K. is here to stay.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Puttin' the Southern Back in the 500

Thank goodness tradition counts for something somewhere. For a sport that's often slicked up, sometimes toned down and always cleverly marketed to the masses, NASCAR still does a remarkable job of recognizing the people, places and traditions that have made the sport what it is today.

There are so many folks with fond memories of Darlington and its Southern 500 -- from the Boy Scout troops near Florence who used to get free tickets to the race every Labor Day weekend, to the '60s farm kids in the Midlands who made the trek each year to see the likes of Fireball Roberts and Cale Yarborough race their hearts out.

For a Florida girl like me, merely the name "Southern 500" unlocks Polaroid memories from years gone by. My Dad's politically incorrect Confederate Flag beach towel wafting from the back of a vinyl lounge chair. Uncle J's "racy" stories of camping out with his buddies in a beat-up fifth wheel at Speedweeks. My Uncle E's anecdotes of the days he was a small-time racer on the tracks of Hollywood, Florida. The sounds of Waylon Jennings. The taste of fried okra. The haze of red dust on a dirt road.

In short, whether you were an eyewitness to Darlington's history or not, there's something about merely the name of this racing tradition that makes fans feel a little bit nostalgic, a little bit proud and a whole lot of happy.

Sure there will still be races at tracks in Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Fontana. But for this weekend at least, the South's gonna do it again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Yee Haw! Martin's Back in 2010

Not that there was ever any doubt, but I wanted to let out a rebel yell when I heard today's official news that Mark Martin will return for a full Sprint Cup season in 2010.

But seriously, how could he not come back full-time? The guy's fifteenth in the points, been on the poll multiple times this year and then there was this teensy little victory at Phoenix. When you get down to the sugar and the shonuff, Martin is currently driving miles better than guys half his age. And at the races I've been to, he gets just as many cheers from the fans as Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In fact, it's increasingly hard to believe that Mark "The Kid" Martin almost retired from motorsports for good a couple years ago. NASCAR fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to team owner Rick Hendrick for convincing Martin to get back into a stock car full time.

Said Martin, "I'm in the best condition of my life, I'm recharged ... going to the racetrack every weekend is still really fun, and that's the key."

I'm glad he's still having fun. Because there are legions of fans out there who are still having fun watching him.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Keselowski to Earn His Stripes at Darlington

Still riding high after his explosive Talladega win two weeks ago, Brad Keselowski will be one to watch at Darlington.

Keselowski has never raced a Cup car at "the track too tough to tame"--but he does have two Nationwide races under his belt, earning a 15th-place finish at last Spring's race. But even given his limited Cup experience so far, Keselowski seems ready to tame just about anything. Just watch his on-camera interviews or read his comments online. Whatever you think of this up-and-coming star, there's no doubting his self-possession, innate confidence and obvious desire to win.

"I know it is going to be a challenge for me to qualify the Chevy this weekend. But I've never backed down from a challenge, and I definitely don't plan to this weekend. My team is bringing me a great car and I know with their help, we can get this No. 25 in the race and post a solid finish," said Keselowski.

Unlike Dega, Keselowski will be racing for team owner Rick Hendrick this weekend. And wouldn't it be something if he outran the rest of his Hendrick teammates to the finish line yet again?

Stranger things have happened.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Best Hee Haw Reference Ever

Kudos again to Greg Engle over at NASCAR Examiner for the best use of a Hee Haw reference in a sports blog.

His headline? "Gloom, despair and misery continues for Earnhardt Jr". OK, so Engle flubbed a bit and subbed the word misery for agony...but it's still Hee Haw through and through.

And in the spirit of the cornfield...Engle, we salute thee.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Rematch That Wasn't

We all knew it would happen. On the one-year anniversary of the "spin heard 'round the world," Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were asked to relive last year's Richmond finish live on NASCAR Raceday. Both were questioned separately about the 2008 on-track altercation and both, of course, had different ideas about who was at fault.

And if the chorus of boos and hisses that erupted around the Speed TV stage were any indication, fans still put the blame on Busch and were hankering for some good old-fashioned revenge.

But for all the pre-race hype, the Richmond Rematch failed to materialize. Earnhardt never contended for the win (the best he ran all night was eleventh). And unlike last spring, Busch had a much easier path to the checkers. Opening up a sizable lead during the last few laps, there were no Chevys in his way as he scored his first Richmond victory.

For the Junior faithful, Richmond was a big disappointment in more ways than one. Not only did the rematch at RIR never come close to happening, the #88 team couldn't even get their car in decent enough shape to hang with the leaders for long green-flag runs. Add some serious communication issues on pit road and Junior quickly became a lap-down non-issue.

So Junior left Richmond without vindication, while Busch fans gleefully racked up more bragging rights. Not only did their favorite driver win Richmond on his birthday, he's also now poised to contend for the 2009 Championship.

And for the disappointed Junior Nation, that just adds insult to injury.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Carl Edwards Gets His Hands Dirty

Fresh from his death-defying crash at Talladega, Carl Edwards high-tailed it to our nation's capital and the Robert F. Lederer Youth Center Community Garden. While there on Thursday, the driver planted some veggies with the kids and encouraged fans to take the GroGood pledge "to grow a garden for the greater good" and provide fresh produce to the hungry.

And today at 4:45 p.m., Carl will speak at Richmond International Raceway to explain more about the four GroGood edible gardens planted at RIR. The gardens are a part of the GroGood Campaign and were created in partnership with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, Plant a Row for the Hungry and Feeding America. Each garden will provide fresh produce to those at risk for hunger in the Richmond area.

To launch the GroGood pledge campaign, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company will donate 1 million pounds of produce to Feeding America and call on Americans to help double that donation by pledging to grow and donate an additional 1 million pounds of fresh produce to help feed those at risk for hunger. Fans can get involved and take the GroGood pledge by visiting the ScottsMiracle-Gro display adjacent to the hospitality pavilion during race weekend or by visit