Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dale Jr. Picks Up the Tab

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Twelfth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Twelve Legends Running

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

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

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

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

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

The Twelve NASCAR Days of Christmas

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Eleventh NASCAR Day of Christmas: Eleven Racers Tweeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max Papis @maxpapis: " - Relaxing from my room ...this is close to paradise"

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from NASCAR's "Straight No Chasers"

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

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

The Tenth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Top Tens for Gordon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Ninth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Ninth Place for Newman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tony Stewart - a Teddy Bear at Heart?

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Action Sports Photography

The Eighth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Eight Drivers Feuding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Seventh NASCAR Day of Christmas: Seven Wins for Junior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Sixth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Six Restart Misses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Fifth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Five Martin Wins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Fourth NASCAR Day of Christmas: Four Championships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Third NASCAR Day of Christmas: Three Monday Races

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? Rain's not so bad after all.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Second NASCAR Day of Christmas: Two Digger Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

First NASCAR Day of Christmas: One Smashed Guitar Trophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Introducing the NASCAR Days of Christmas

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If You Can't Get Enough Jimmie ...

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A NASCAR Festivus for the Rest of Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yes Danica, There Is a Santa Claus

And his name is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How To Kick Those Off-Season Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mark Martin - Simply the Best

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

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

Then there was Mark Martin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple truths from the heart of a champion.

Here's hoping Martin gets that championship in 2010.

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Whisky River to Run Through Jacksonville

Hang on to your mechanical bull.

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

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

Photo: Whisky River, coming soon to Jacksonville, Florida